I am a fan of Gioia, but more as a figure than a poet (though his translation of Dante is superb and that, too, is poetry). I enjoyed his novella length essay on the Catholic writer in contemporary times and felt he was one of our best Poet Laureates in terms of actually promoting poetry (I love the poetry of Charles Wright, but he was marvelously disinterested as Poet Laureate). I was pleased to read that he was a young fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and got his start reading At the Earth’s Core (the first of his Pellucidar books).
Beyond our shared love, this is a lovely little book. I wish that he had delved more into his own experiences around class and race, but I also recognize that this is not that kind of book.
He examines how his interactions (mainly as a young poet) with five poets and writers affected him. While he notes a funny encounter with a drunk James Dickey (who resented a negative review that Gioia wrote), the reminiscences are by and large fond and positive.
My personal favorite was the chapter about the classicist, Robert Fitzgerald (I loved his translation of The Aeneid), but section on Ronald Perry, an apparently talented, but mostly unknown poet, is the most affecting. It is a beautiful meditation on mortality, in the end. Perry’s literary reputation was small and his memory limited, most likely, by the lifespan of those who knew him. Most writers will not be remembered.