Friday, 28 November 2008

Looking back at Dana Gioia's tenure as chairman of the NEA

Gioia is stepping down from the NEA, but I hope he continues to find ways to promote the arts in general, and poetry in particular, because he is singularly good at it, and he is one the smartest, and most level-headed, in the "business" -- here's an article (in the National Review of all places) by Thomas S. Hibbs profiling his run at the NEA:

Gioia — an award-winning poet and author of the influential article “Can Poetry Matter?” — has been a trenchant critic of the increasing professionalization and isolation of the arts, and of poetry’s smug and self-congratulatory retreat to the confines of academia in particular. After many years as a successful poet, Gioia still thinks of himself primarily as a reader. One of his early shifts at the NEA was away from a focus on the producers of art to a greater emphasis on the consumers of art. “Controversy,” he reflects, “is not an intrinsic artistic concept; it’s a byproduct. I can’t defend things that are wild and crazy for the sake of being wild and crazy.”....

Gioia also shows how populism and intellectual cultivation — accessibility and refinement — need not be at odds with one another. In graduate school at Harvard, he realized that he was being trained to write in such a way that the people who raised him would not understand him. His love of poetry dates from his youth: His mother recited poetry to him from memory. Gioia maintains that preserving a connection to one’s roots and writing poetry that reaches an audience beyond academia are not matters of condescension but of the craft of language — of finding words to invite the “intelligent, non-educated reader” to become a lover of poetry, to be transformed and elevated by the experience of beauty.

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