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Poet Dana Gioia nails it.

Every not-so-often, a person can distill a complex idea into one sentence.

It’s a rare event. But when it happens the idea snaps into your mind forever.

Today’s Econ Talk podcast episode was one such occasion.

Dana Gioia snapped my synapses when he shared this definition of the novel:

Now, the great thing of literature–and this is literature as distinct from film and other theater, which are forms of storytelling–but the beauty of the novel and poetry is that they essentially are our cultural machinery for articulating the inner lives of people. In effect, the novel is based on–the very definition of the novel, although people never talk about this–is based on irony. Which is to say, somebody’s outer life is doing this and their inner life is doing that.

It’s hard to think of a novel that doesn’t follow this idea. I’m sure there’s some experimental four hundred pager out there, but the novels I truly know all exhibit this tension between the characters inner and outer life.

In Tolkien’s The Hobbit – Bilbo duels between his craving for comfortable Shire life and his Took instincts for adventure.

In Jeff Smith’s Bone – Fone Bone longs to return to Boneville, but harbors a secret love for Thorn who could never follow him there (Graphic novels count too right?).

Or in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake – Gogol’s divided between the need to honor his parents and his traditional Indian heritage, and the allure of American success.

Irony threads through all of them. And novels will no longer read the same to me.

Russ Roberts and Dana Gioia’s conversation was inspiring throughout.

Listen in full below:


November Jack-O-Lanterns

Abandoned. Lost. Rot

on cobwebbed doorsteps. Their joy,

crumbles to sadness.


Olive Eyes

You’re full of questions,

I can’t answer. My daughter,

I will let you down.


Early Autumn

No season’s cold bites

my flesh as sweet as Autumn’s

does in September.



Fresh baked Cuban pan.

Raw pork loin chopped on request.

Dinner in thirty.



We’re at odds on all

things, but one. I concede. Your

fall sunsets are best.


Thirty Percent Chance

Thunder knocks against

the drywall. Rain taps against

the flue. Silence waits.


Sand and Time

The hour glass flips.

Each grain precious. Each grain a

choice. How do we choose?


68′ VW Beetle

June’s afternoon heat

burns the egg shell leather of

his two door coffin.


‘Aurens of Arabia

A lit match unites

desert tribes. Cowers. Ashamed

of his blood soaked blade.