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Two Notes on the NEA

As reported in the New York Times Dana Gioia is stepping down from the NEA in January:

“I’ve given up six years of my life as a writer,” Mr. Gioia, 57, said earlier in the week from his office in Washington. “I felt I had to go back to writing when I still have the kind of stamina to do it seriously.”

The winner of the presidential election in November will decide his successor, but whoever it is, Mr. Gioia said he was confident that the next chairman would have a smoother transition than he did. [. . .]

“When I arrived in Washington six years ago, the N.E.A. was a wounded institution,” Mr. Gioia said. “It had been rocked by controversies for nearly 20 years. Half the people had been fired, the budget had been pretty much cut in half, and people were worried about the long-term existence of the agency.”

“We had let the enemies of our funding dictate the national conversation,” he added.

On a related note, The Onion has a fitting joke article about the NEA funding the construction of a $1.3 poem:

WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poem—its largest investment in the nation’s aesthetic- industrial complex since the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.

“America’s metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation’s verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart,” said the project’s head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. “We need to make sure America’s poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world.”

Gioia confirmed that the public-works composition will be assembled letter-by-letter atop a solid base of the relationship between man and nature. The poem’s structure, laid out extensively on lined-paper blueprints, involves a traditional three- quatrain-and-a-couplet framework, which will be tethered to an iambic meter for increased stability and symmetry. If the planners can secure an additional $6.2 million in funding, they may affix a long dash to the end of line three, though Gioia said that is a purely optimistic projection at this stage. [. . .]

“We’ve already put 200 hours of manpower into the semicolon at the end of the first stanza,” said Charles Simic, poet laureate of the United States and head author of the still- untitled piece. “And I’ve got my best guys working around the clock to convert all the ‘overs’ in the piece into one-syllable ‘o’ers.’ I got [Nobel Prize winner Seamus] Heaney and [Margaret] Atwood stripping all the V’s and tacking apostrophes in their place. It’s grunt work, but somebody’s got to do it if this poem’s going to get done.”

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