Posts Tagged ‘“Dana Gioia”’

England takes notice of California’s poet laureate: Dana Gioia on the BBC

Saturday, September 30th, 2017
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“I don’t want to be a visiting celebrity. I want to be a catalyst,” says California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia. The Book Haven has already discussed his efforts as poet laureate here and here, but it’s nice to see his work getting international recognition. He’ll be on the BBC tomorrow, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. California Time (PST). The program, called “a radio road movie,” will be available shortly after broadcast.

From the BBC website:

When Dana Gioia was appointed Poet Laureate of California in 2015 he was invited to read in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. But Gioia believes the role is to encourage poetry throughout the state. He has a mission: to visit every county in the state of California.

There are 58, stretching from Del Norte 1,000 miles south to Imperial, bordering Mexico; from the Sierra mountains and redwood forests to the desert; densely populated Los Angeles (almost 10 million) to almost empty Modoc (fewer than 10,000); with established communities from Mexico and Europe joined recently by people from the Far East.

Everywhere Gioia is joined by other poets and young people participating in Poetry Out Loud. For nine years Gioia was Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. One of his initiatives was this nationwide competition for young people to memorise and recite poems. It is astonishingly popular.

40-odd counties in, producer Julian May joins Gioia to create a radio road movie for Radio 3. Gioia reads in a pub yard in Mariposa, an old gold-mining town, while humming birds dart and hover. A few days later Gioia hears of a huge wildfire coming within a mile of the wooden town. In a library in Madera, roasting in California’s central valley, a woman from Peru recites a love poem in Spanish. In marches a squad of lads – military boots, buzzcuts. They are from the juvenile hall youth correctional facility. Each, says Officer Martinez, can recite a poem by heart. There is an event in Turlock, settled by Assyrians, another in San Diego near Mexico and, in his home county, Sonoma, Gioia appears at poetry event in a vineyard.

All this, and more, in ‘Every County in the State of California’, a radio road movie.

It airs tomorrow morning, October 1, at 10 a.m., California Time (PST). You can read the press release, too, here.

California poet laureate Dana Gioia vowed to visit every county: 14 more to go!

Friday, August 11th, 2017
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When Dana Gioia became California poet laureate a year ago this week, he vowed to visit all 58 counties of California during his tenure. From my own emails and conversations with him, I know that’s taken a lot of miles – out of him as well as his car. But he’s done it. Or is close to doing it. He’s visited 44 of California’s 58 counties. Only 14 to go in his second year. What will he do then? He’ll start all over again. Why? He replied, “because it is important to visit the large counties several times to reach different communities.”

“Los Angeles County has nearly 10 million people. That requires lots of events. The same goes for the Bay Area. When I was asked to read a poem at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Presidio’s National Cemetery, I immediately accepted because the gathering served a different audience from the venues I had already visited in San Francisco,” he said in a California Arts Council interview. “I also knew that poetry was important for the troops, veterans, and families on such a solemn occasion.”

Obviously, he hasn’t just been catering to the big cities. I attended his event last spring in Nevada County, which held it’s first-ever poetry festival, where he gave a terrific talk, one of his best:

At first-ever Sierra Poetry Festival. (Photo: Radu Sava)

“We bear a certain kind of spiritual wisdom,” he said. “It’s something that happened to all of us. We saw and experienced, at a really very early age, the transformation that beauty affords. We encountered things that changed who we were.”

“You have this beauty, which leads to joy, which becomes wisdom, which becomes a kind of helpful humility about what you can possess, and where and what you are. That has happened to everyone in this room repeatedly. Once you experience that, you want more. You will bring yourself at great expense and great difficulty” to those places that provide such occasions, whether Yosemite, the National Gallery of Art, or a small poetry celebration in the Sierra Foothills.

“It awakens you to the full possibilities of your own humanity,” he said. “What we are sold by society are generic, prepackaged versions of what our lives should be and how we should experience them– and what it’s going to cost us to have those predictable experiences,” he said. “Apple, Amazon, Netflex: they don’t want beauty, they want to own beauty. They ‘like’ art, they want to own art – and turn it into entertainment.”

“They want to take all the unknowns and pre-package them, and sell them as a predictable product that they can own as a kind of property. We’re rather helpless and hopeless in front of this enormous global power which is trying to narrow and define our lives in ways that are not the way we want to live. It’s not the kind of mystery that has to unfold unpredictably and personally,” he said. “Joy is something I cannot own.”

“We don’t lead global lives. We don’t lead generic lives.”

Well, read the whole thing here.

But let’s go back to the California Arts Council interview: “We got big audiences in the smallest towns. There was also a wonderful mix of people. There were, of course, the local poets, musicians, and teachers we expected. But we also got mayors, ranchers, shopkeepers, accountants, almond farmers, veterans and veterinarians. The ages ranged from newborn to near centenarians.”

From an interview with the California Arts Council:

You’re a native Californian. Having traveled to some lesser known and less populated parts of the state, have you gained new perspective on the state and what it means to be a Californian?

Absolutely! I thought I knew the state pretty well, but these trips have been a continuous discovery. I now realize how little I knew about the eastern half of the state, especially up in the Sierra Nevadas. Those counties are not only spectacularly beautiful, they are also central to the state’s history. There were also a lot of towns I knew only from driving through them on the way to somewhere else. How different it is to meet local people and spend a day or two there.

I just finished spending two weeks with BBC, which is doing a documentary on the statewide tour. I asked that the show only be partially about me. I wanted it to be mostly about the California that the British don’t know—the mountains, the Central Valley, the desert, and the north coast.

One last question, just for fun. If you were hosting an intimate dinner party, and could invite any three people, living or dead, who would they be, and why?

Honestly, I’d invite my mom, my dad, and my late Uncle Ted, because I miss them. But if I had to exclude family, I’d ask William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar Wilde. I’d open up a bottle of good California wine and then listen to the conversation.

And we’d join him. Make it a BYOB. Meanwhile, read the whole interview here. Congratulations, Dana!

“We don’t lead global lives!” Dana Gioia gives a passionate defense of the arts at inaugural Sierra poetry festival

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
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California state poet laureate launches the first-ever Sierra Poetry Festival. (Photo: Radu Sava)

Dana Gioia, California’s poetry laureate, vowed to visit each of California’s 58 counties, and by gum he’s keeping his word. He’s visited Los Angeles County, 9.11 million, and Alpine County, 1,114. He also helped launch the first-ever Sierra Poetry Festival in Grass Valley in April (that means he gets to check off Nevada County on his list). While there, he gave perhaps the most passionate and eloquent defense of the arts, literature, and poetry I’ve ever heard.

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Poet from afar: U.K.’s Mel Pryor leads a workshop at Sierra festival. (Photo: Radu Sava)

The former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts lauded the people gathered in the room, some of whom had come from some distance and personal sacrifice, praising them as people who have “dedicated significant part of our lives, in a broader sense, to something our society doesn’t much value. We are people at odds with the values that are trumpeted around us in the media.”

Those values, he said, could be summarized in three terms: “money, power, and other visible forms of social status.” That’s why, he said of one of his predecessors as state poet laureate, Al Young, who was in the audience “operated at a level any celebrity chef would look down upon.”

He countered society’s values with “three words our society is suspicious of, and professors of literature absolutely hate: beauty, truth, goodness. Are there three more discredited words in our society?”

Dana cited Robert Frost‘s words, that a contemplation of stillness moves you from delight to wisdom. “That is what it’s about. To make something that is beautiful. … to get something right.”

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Pablo Frasconi on William Everson (Photo: Radu Sava)

Intellectual rationales don’t capture the motivation that drives us. The real reasons, he said, are “experiential” – “to restore our souls, to give us a drink of what refreshes us.”

“We bear a certain kind of spiritual wisdom,” he said. “It’s something that happened to all of us. We saw and experienced, at a really very early age, the transformation that beauty affords. We encountered things that changed who we were.”

“You have this beauty, which leads to joy, which becomes wisdom, which becomes a kind of helpful humility about what you can possess, and where and what you are. That has happened to everyone in this room repeatedly. Once you experience that, you want more. You will bring yourself at great expense and great difficulty” to those places that provide such occasions, whether Yosemite, the National Gallery of Art, or a small poetry celebration in the Sierra Foothills.

“It awakens you to the full possibilities of your own humanity,” he said. “What we are sold by society are generic, prepackaged versions of what our lives should be and how we should experience them– and what it’s going to cost us to have those predictable experiences,” he said. “Apple, Amazon, Netflex: they don’t want beauty, they want to own beauty. They ‘like’ art, they want to own art – and turn it into entertainment.”

“They want to take all the unknowns and pre-package them, and sell them as a predictable product that they can own as a kind of property. We’re rather helpless and hopeless in front of this enormous global power which is trying to narrow and define our lives in ways that are not the way we want to live. It’s not the kind of mystery that has to unfold unpredictably and personally,” he said. “Joy is something I cannot own.”

“We don’t lead global lives. We don’t lead generic lives.” Speaking for myself (and the Book Haven), that’s one reason why I’m so uncomfortable about the politicization of our culture, which is another attempt to co-opt the private sphere, the personal “aha” into a collective, ready-made experience, which is necessarily narrower and more generic. This trend, of course, is accelerated by the social media, by television, and even by our academic institutions.

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“The battles are mostly local.” (Photo: Radu Sava)

I was happy to hear, at the end of the day, Dana’s eloquent championing of the writer William Everson, in an onstage conversation with filmmaker Pablo Frasconi, who is doing a film on the too little-known poet of the San Francisco Renaissance.

During the morning address, Dana also mentioned Everson, recalling his frequent misrepresentation and neglect over the years. It returned him to his main line of thought: In his research, he recalled a Poetry Foundation article that was riddled with errors, and noted that, in 1947, Everson became “a poet of national importance.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Dana asked. “Poetry is not something that happens and is judged in New York or Paris or London. We lead our lives in a particular place, in a particular time, in a particular body.”

“We have battles to defend that. The battles are mostly local. Why is there no arts education in local schools? It’s not because anyone in Washington made that decision.” Those decisions are made at the city and county level.

Yet an education in poetry, literature, the arts, is the way we shape our students’ emotions and intuition, he continued. “To produce people who are not educated in that experiential part of their humanity,” he said, is to process students who are “not educated, not able to take their particular life into a complicated society in the complicated business of living to have a productive life.”

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Dana poses for a photo with Humble Moi, with flowers by the matchless Eliza Tudor, who organized the event. (Photo: Mary Gioia)

“We are here because we know these things are of value,” he said to the audience. “It rests on us unfortunately to communicate those beliefs to society, be it in the U.S. senate and House of Representatives, where unfortunately I have spent a great deal of my energy and time in the last three months – not to mention the previous decade – or the local schools boards or county supervisors.”

May the Book Haven add a note to this? Too often, arts education has yielded to a wrong-headed notion of self-expression, rather than as an apprenticeship to something more enduring and more profound than the limited ego and short-lived self. For example, it is a lesson in humility to write write essays, articles, even blogposts, and then read Great Expectations on the train, or memorize Shakespeare on the elliptical, just as it must be for an artist (or anyone else really) to study Giotto before returning to the commercial art studio. It subsumes us into something greater than ourselves, and one is happy to put a nail into the most obscure cupola in the magnificent edifice of civilization. It teaches one humility, and we could all use a little o’ that.

“I love California, I want to see every corner of California. Every place matters,” said the Angelino poet as he concluded his remarks. And a few hours later he hit the road again. I got an email from him a little while later – he’d traveled over a thousand miles by car in the past ten days, not counting flights to and from Los Angeles, where he currently holds the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California.

Listen to his whole talk here. Kudos to Eliza TudorExecutive Director of Nevada County Arts Council, for pulling off a smashing launch of a promising annual event. And congratulations to Molly Fisk, Nevada County’s inaugural poet laureate!

 

NEA? NEH? PBS? We told you so!

Monday, May 1st, 2017
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Donald_TrumpI’ve always maintained that the three most beloved words in the English language are not “I love you,” but rather, “You were right.” So I’m waiting…

Still waiting… Crickets?

When I said that President Trump doesn’t have the ability to eliminate federal agencies, as he suggested by recommending the complete defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, I was challenged. One Facebook friend, a well-known editor, flamed and unfriended me. Others expressed expressed skepticism. Meanwhile, champions of the agencies lobbied fiercely in Washington D.C., where the NEA and NEH  have wide bipartisan support, as I reported here.

Dana Gioia was one of them, and he said to the Sierra Poetry Festival in Grass Valley last month that he was 99% certain all would be well. (More on that event later.)

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The spending bill that Congress is expected to vote on this week includes a promotion for the two agencies:  $150 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and the same for the Humanities endowment. In both cases, that’s a $2-million increase over last fiscal year. No cut in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had advocated the cuts, saying that it was unfair to take money from working families to support programs such as the endowments and public television.

But it was clear from the outset that Trump’s plan would face trouble in Congress. Most NEA funds go to support community arts groups in all 50 states, with rural, Republican-leaning states topping the lists of spending per person. As a result, arts programs have a strong constituency in Congress, especially on the appropriations committees that dole out spending.

Mulvaney and his allies in the most conservative wing of the GOP have tried to cut money for arts programs in the past with no success.

The deal only lasts through the end of September, and the fight could be renewed for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, but the basic congressional dynamics aren’t likely to change.

Of course, it still has to get voted on, but I refer you to the third paragraph above, and also my earlier report.

What’s that? Oh yes. You’re so very welcome.

“A Titan”: Caribbean poet Derek Walcott’s last voyage, 1930-2017

Friday, March 17th, 2017
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walcott

Shakespearean energy and scale

A few weeks ago, when I met Robert Pinsky for a quick coffee on San Francisco’s North Beach, he passed on the sad news that Nobel poet Derek Walcott wasn’t doing well, and to expect the bad news soon. And so I did, all the more when a Facebook friend, in touch with Walcott’s daughter, said the poet had slipped into a coma some days ago. He died today at 87.

The official cause of death has not been cited, but I’m pretty certain the poet died in the place, if not the way, he would have wished: on his native St. Lucia in the Caribbean, the sea that was the lifelong inspiration for his poems and plays. “I go back to St. Lucia and the exhilaration I feel is not simply the exhilaration of homecoming and of nostalgia,” he once said. “It is almost an irritation of feeling: Well, you never got it right. Now you have another chance. Maybe you can try and look harder.

He was born on the island, and attended the newly established University College of the West Indies in Jamaica. After graduating in 1953 he moved to Trinidad. He was awarded the Nobel in 1992. He is best remembered for his epic poem Omeros. The Caribbean’s brutal colonial history, as well as the native beauty of these islands, were his themes.

“He’s a titan.” That was from Garrett Hongo, another islander from another ocean, the Pacific: a Japanese-American poet from Hawaii. He continued:  “I’m weeping quietly and slowly. I cannot even begin to think of all the ways he has inspired me at different times in my life since I was a boy in an audience of a theater weeping at hearing his words in the dark, stage rain glittering down on the floorboards in front of me.”

“He was kind and encouraging to me when I was starting out. And he once called out my name as I stood in an autograph line, waiting with others. He said something to me I will never forget.” What did he say? “It was praise, I’ll just say that.”

garrett-hongo

Another island poet remembers.

Garrett had hoped to travel to St. Lucia in February for his birthday but was told he was ill and would not be seeing any visitors this year. He thought to present the essay that was a tribute to him, which had been presented at the Folk Center on St. Lucia. It didn’t happen. “He mana’o he aloha,” [I have a feeling of love] he said, in tribute.

According to NPR, when Walcott was teaching at Boston University 1984, he said that a book-length poem like Midsummer was a natural extension of the language all around him. “You would get some fantastic syntactical phenomena,” he said in an interview, “You would hear people talking in Barbados in the exact melody as a minor character in Shakespeare. Because here you have a thing that was not immured and preserved and mummified, but a voluble language, very active, very swift, very sharp. And that is going on still in all the languages of the Caribbean. So that you didn’t make yourself a poet — you entered a situation in which there was poetry.”

More from The Guardian:

Walcott continued his project to make the western canon his own, summoning up the spirits of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats and Eliot in collections that explored his position “between the Greek and African pantheon”. His decision to write mostly in standard English brought attacks from the Black Power movement in the 1970s, which Walcott answered in the voice of a mulatto sea-dog in The Star-Apple Kingdom: “I have no nation now but the imagination./ After the white man, the niggers didn’t want me/ when the power swing to their side./ The first chain my hands and apologize, ‘History’ / the next said I wasn’t black enough for their pride.” While Omeros tackled the ghost of Homer head on, relocating Achilles, Helen and Philoctetes among the island fishermen of the West Indies.

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Accepting the Nobel from King Carl Gustav

In 2012, he told The Guardian that he felt that he was still defined as a black writer in the US and the UK. “It’s a little ridiculous. The division of black theatre and white theatre still goes on, and I don’t wish to be a part of any one of those definitions. I’m a Caribbean writer.”

We’ve quoted Dana Goia, California poet laureate and former chairman of the embattled National Endowment of the Arts, a lot in the last few days. Let us do so once more. This afternoon he said: “Derek Walcott was justly celebrated as the historic figure who entered the great tradition of English-language poetry with his Caribbean identity intact, thereby both enriching and transforming the canon. It’s less known what a superb playwright Walcott was. His theatrical legacy is in every way equal to his poetry. Foremost among his dramatic achievements was his reinvention of contemporary verse drama in plays bristling with Shakespearean energy.”

I had the same thought when reviewing his verse plays, The Haitian Trilogy fifteen years ago for The San Francisco Chronicle. I wrote that Walcott was attempting to re-create West Indian history on a canvas as large and mythic as Shakespeare’s War of the Roses:

Commenting about his plays to the Caribbean Quarterly in 1968, Walcott said, “I hope that there is a moment, or there are moments, when the thing becomes a poetry on stage; and I would prefer to eventually write a play which would be a poem.”

If so, Walcott has hit the target. “The Haitian Trilogy is like the great hull of a lost ship, its crushed timber shot through with starlight. And what lies at the bottom of the seas it once sailed is the inevitability of time, the inevitability of history to crush kings and the certitude of conquerors, the inevitability of remorse for things done and undone – and, as always, the ability of gold to betray men.”

Godspeed, Mr. Walcott. Requiescat in pace.

Postscript on 3/18: Courtesy Elizabeth Amrienwe have a 52-minute podcast with Derek Walcott at Boston University, on the theme “Poetry and Politics.” Irena Grudzinska Gross moderates. It’s here.

BREAKING NEWS: Finally, actual evidence that Trump plans to recommend eliminating the NEA and NEH

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
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Vincenzo Camuccini’s commemoration of the day. He supported the arts, too.

It’s the Ides of March and President Trump has been busy with his knife.

This afternoon, Jane Chu, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, called in her staff to announce that the President has recommended the elimination of both cultural agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His budget will call for defunding both. A Republican White House political appointee was in the room during the meeting.

Harumph.

He supports the arts, too.

The decision now moves to the House of Representatives, where both cultural agencies have a great deal support, as we wrote about here. It’s time to flood the offices of your Congressional representative with letters and phone calls of support. Don’t know who your representative is? You’re not alone. Find it here.

“Now we know for sure where the president stands on the issue,” said Dana Gioia, California poet laureate and a former chairman of the NEA. “It is fortunate that in America we have a division of powers. The decision is now with Congress. I am confident that they will make the right decisions for our civic and cultural welfare.”

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Courage, Ms. Chu!

He added: “I urge everyone to write their representative in the House to speak for their cultural agencies.We want to win votes in the House!”

How is “defunding” different from the “elimination” of the agencies? An agency cannot be removed immediately. Its funding will be slashed over a period of several years as it winds down its operations.

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Grinch.

Seriously, though, if those hostile to the cultural agencies a quarter-of-a-century ago could not close the NEA – at a time when it was supporting photographs of crucifixes in urine – how will they successfully axe an agency that is now renowned for Shakespeare performances, jazz, and veterans writing about their war experiences? It seems little short of delusional. But let’s take no chances.

Speaking of William Shakespeare, let me repeat: it’s the Ides of March – you know, the day a mob of lynchers killed Julius Caesar. Let us echo Mark Anthony‘s words on this occasion: “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war!”

Postscript 3/15: And the race is on: Twitchy reported this story about  here. But they were citing The Hill here, but The Hill was reporting from Sopan Deb‘s 7:45 p.m. article from The New York Times here. But you read it first here, folks. And had you not read it here at about 11.30 a.m., you would not be reading it anywhere else. Stay tuned, folks. Postscript on 3/16: London’s Independent names Humble Moi, if not the Book Haven, in its story here.

Keep writing letters, and don’t panic! More on Trump, Congress, and the future of the NEA.

Monday, March 13th, 2017
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Spoleto Festival USA 2015; Opening Ceremonies

The opening ceremonies of the NEA-funded Spoleto Festival USA 2015.

From last week’s New York Times:

“New York City sees itself as the cultural capital of the nation — if not the world — but its artistic community is suddenly vulnerable to budget cuts in Washington, where the administration of President Trump is considering eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides millions of dollars each year to groups in the city.”

News flash: Donald Trump cannot eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, or any of the other federal agencies. Got that? That’s good. The New York Times didn’t. These agencies were created by Congress, and can only be eliminated by Congress.

However, budgets can be slashed. An agency can be starved, if not murdered. Will it happen?

At least one hero I know is working behind the scenes to make sure that it doesn’t. A few words to the Book Haven from Dana Gioia, former chairman of the NEA, over the weekend: “There now seems to be a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress to support the NEA and NEH. It is still uncertain what President Trump will propose, but it won’t matter in the end. The budget is done by Congress, and they are set to preserve the cultural agencies.”

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Dana Gioia takes advice from a friend.

A few weeks ago we wrote about the rumors that Trump will trash the NEA and the NEH. We wrote about Dana’s radio interview about the NEA and what you, as a private citizen, should do to protect it. The upshot: write, write, write your congressional representatives! It needn’t be long. Just two or three sentences. Go here for Dana’s remarks.
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Here’s some good news: Democrats and Republicans are voicing support for the agencies, in light of the concern that the Trump administration will propose a 2018 budget that will strike at the tiny, but popular NEA.

Not that it would help balance the books in more than an infinitesimal way. The NEA receives about $150 million annually out of a more than $4 trillion federal budget – less than one-tenth of one percent of the budget. Too small to be anything more than symbolic – and why axe popular institutions as a gesture?

Someone sent me an interesting column by Jennifer Shutt of CQ Roll Call, entitled “Some Republicans Lukewarm on Killing Off Federal Arts Funding,” noting that the NEA has been targeted in the past. But right now? There isn’t much interest in slashing it. Some quotes from the article:

Budget Committee member and Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla: “I think it has a lot of support,” he said, when asked how many House GOP members would back continued NEA funding. “It’s not a lot of money in this budget, so I think there is considerable sentiment for it. And a considerable belief that it’s a fight not worth fighting because there is not much money there.”

Walker: a fan of the arts

Walker: a fan of the arts

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee: He said he has not looked at NEA funding extensively but added that he is not inclined to support cutting funding for the arts. “My background has a lot of music-related events to it: I’m from a music past, and my daughter is in a lot of the local theater and maybe even looking to go to New York,” Walker said. “I appreciate the education that is found in the arts, so at this point I have no path to making any kind of hard cuts right now.”

Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa.:  Speaking broadly about the upcoming fiscal 2018 process, Dent said, “We simply cannot increase Department of Defense funding on the backs of the non-defense discretionary programs.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y.: Speaking during the members’ hearing in February, he said, “I know it’s symbolic for a lot of people, but it does do a lot of good things in a lot of great communities, like my community in Buffalo and western New York.”

Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert:  “The arts and the humanities touches every congressional district in the United States,” he said. “So you know there is a lot of support for that, and I certainly take that into consideration … we’ll be working together to try to resolve these things,” Calvert said.

There’s more from Dana in a February 27 NPR broadcast, “Former Leader Of National Arts Fund Says Organization Should Be Protected” – go here. Quote: “What the NEA really does is fund art programs that are, for the most part, created in your community, by people in your community, to serve your community.”

Will Trump trash the NEA and NEH? Here’s what to do.

Sunday, February 5th, 2017
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Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA opens in 2015

Spoleto Festival USA 2015; Opening Ceremonies

It was all over the social media: President Donald Trump is going to trash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I know, I know, everyone has said that for years. Even though the official U.S. agencies to promote the arts and the humanities only get tens-thousandths of a percent of the U.S. budget ($148m last year), they are regularly attacked – but now the threat looking less rhetorical and more existential. The source, however, seems to be a single story in The Hill that’s been repeated everywhere.

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Dana with Doctor Gatsby. (Photo: Star Black)

California poet laureate Dana Gioia, former chairman of the NEA, appeared on WNYC’s Studio 360 this weekend, in a discussion with novelist Kurt Andersen, to discuss the prospects. The link is here.

“The NEA is very efficiently run nowadays,” he said. “The staff is small. Most of the money goes out the door” – that is, to individuals and groups in the arts. “The NEA does not subsidize the American arts. It doesn’t have enough money to subsidize anybody.” Rather, it serves as a catalyst for local groups in communities, and the imprimatur of the NEA means that an individual or group can be more successful in raising its own funding in the future.

Nor are the awards made only to coastal elites. He pointed out the NEA’s Shakespeare program, which brings professional-caliber Shakespeare to places that don’t have professional theater companies. It’s visited 4,000 towns – and these are small towns, for the most part.

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Menotti (Photo: Carl Van Vechten)

What would he say to President Trump? “The presence of art in schools and the presence of art in communities makes them more economically viable. They become places that are desirable to live in, desirable to locate businesses in, desirable to invest in. This is probably one of the cheapest economic development programs that the United States has. That’s my Trumpean argument. It’s not the argument I would make to a cultural person.”

“When you do something positive, it tends to be positive in many ways,” he continued. He pointed out that Charleston forty years ago was a dying community. The mayor talked to a gay, Italian-American opera composer, Gian Carlo Menotti. The Spoleto Festival USA was born. “It tranformed Charleston into the most attractive city in the American South,” with galleries, restaurants, and huge local employment, he said.

“Donald Trump does not create the budget – he can suggest a budget, but Congress does.” He recommended that everyone write to his or her representative in Congress, a short, two- or three-sentence letter: “As a constituent, I am concerned about protecting budget of NEA.”

“I guarantee you that any member of the House who gets 500 individual letters on an issue will begin to change his or her mind. They will act on it,” he said. “We need American culture to win the battles. We will win this battle.”

Biographer Andrew Motion remembers Larkin: “he was 53 coming on 153…and he looked like God.”

Monday, June 13th, 2016
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Love at first sight. (Photo: Gerry Cambridge)

Sir Andrew Motion, former British poet laureate, read Philip Larkin‘s poetry in school and “immediately fell in love with him” – fell in love with him, despite obvious differences in their poetry and outlook. Eventually, Motion became an executor following Larkin’s death in 1985, and then his biographer. His 1993 Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life won the Whitbread Prize for Biography.

The youthful enthusiasm that became a sort of vocation left him feeling “fascinated, privileged, lucky.” Motion, currently teaching at Johns Hopkins University, told the story to an audience at the West Chester Poetry Conference last week. One of the conference founders, California poet laureate Dana Gioia, was interlocutor for the discussion.

That early affinity was part of the reason why Motion accepted an appointment at the University of Hull in 1976, when he was only 24 – Larkin was the university librarian at Hull. But proximity didn’t guarantee access. “Bad luck,” a colleague told him, explaining that Larkin hated everyone at the university, especially those who teach English.  “You’ll never meet him,” he was warned.

The colleague was wrong. The encounter finally happened at the university pub. “There he was,” Motion recalled. “He looked very much like I was expecting – and not as I expected. Taller, bulkier, looming, funeral-suited.” Larkin was fatherly, downright biblical – “he was 53 coming on 153.”

“He was ten years younger than I am now, and he looked like God.”

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Gioia (Photo: Gerry Cambridge)

The god-like Larkin took a huge swig of beer and it went down the wrong way.  Motion began thumping him on the back. “That was an icebreaker,” he recalled. Here was another: when Motion mentioned that his father was a brewer, “Philip’s face absolutely lit up.”

While Larkin was seen as austere and forbidding, when he was among friends, “he was the most charming man, deeply funny.”

Motion was later asked to be one of Larkin’s literary executors. “I said I would do it but please would he not die,” he said. Motion also warned Larkin to discard anything he didn’t want preserved – “he was to understand I would not throw anything away.” Motion was as good as his word: he saved many of Larkin’s papers from imminent destruction after his death. (But not before his diaries were shredded, page by page.)

Motion was perfectly positioned, after the nine-year friendship, to become Larkin’s biographer. “When Philip died, his Number One girlfriend” – presumably Monica Jones – “was sitting in a chair, smoking herself to death, sozzled, with unkempt hair, and dropping ashes on the floor.” She picked up Larkin’s address book and threw it at him. “Everyone you need to talk to is there,” she said.

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Reading his poetry (Photo: Anna Yin)

“He lived a very very discreet life,” said Motion. “He had lived his life in extraordinarily discrete compartments. We all do that to some extent.” All biography is a kind of invasion of the subject, however, and Motion had pangs of guilt.

“I had series of very peculiar dreams during period of writing about Larkin.” In one, Motion was speaking in an auditorium – and Larkin was sitting in the audience. Motion was remorseful in the dream, thinking, “Oh shit. I’d say none of this when he was still alive.” It was the guilt working through itself, he said.

Finally, Larkin appeared to him in a dream, with a collar made of hay. Motion interpreted that  “as a vision of him saying, ‘It’s okay.’”

larkinbookWhen Motion was named poet laureate, following the death of his predecessor, Ted Hughes, he redefined the role from a lifetime position to ten-year term. He said this allowed consideration of younger people for the office, and brought more vigor to the role.

His signal achievement was the creation of the Poetry Archive, a web-based library of English language poets reading their own work. It currently includes 400 recorded voices, and attracts 300,000 visitors a month. “I’m very proud, very pleased about the archive. It’s done a lot of good in the world,” he said.

It also refutes an argument that “come round like a sock in the washing machine” – that is, the claim that people don’t read poetry anymore. “We should probably cheer up,” he said. “More people listening to poetry than ever before, via things like archive.”

Postscript on 6/15: You may have observed that the earlier headline said “looked like a god.” I received this note from Gerry Cambridge (who took some of the photos above): “Cynthia great to meet you at West Chester. A wee observation: Andrew Motion actually said ‘… and looked like God’, not ‘…a god’. Which I think is funnier, if more risqué in some quarters.”

Stay tuned… more from Philadelphia, coming up soon!

Friday, June 10th, 2016
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The Book Haven has been unusually silent these last few days. We’ve been at the West Chester Poetry Conference outside Philadelphia, attending workshops, panels, and readings with Dick Davis, Dana Gioia, Sir Andrew Motion, Sam Gwynn, and many, many others.

Humble Moi will be on a panel tomorrow morning to discuss Robert Conquest, the late great historian and poet, who died last year at Stanford.

Just to let you know we mean business, the photo below is taken from Thursday morning’s public conversation with Andrew Motion, former British poet laureate and biographer of Philip Larkin. Dana Gioia was his interlocutor (and no, he’s not as unhappy as he looks). Photograph taken by Gerry Cambridge.

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Dana Gioia ponders a remark from Sir Andrew Motion. (Photo: Gerry Cambridge)