Wednesday, September 01, 2010

National Book Festival Kicks Poetry to the Curb - Dana Gioia, Where Are You?

I've taken a look at the pavilion line-up for the 2010 National Book Festival, which will be held on the National Mall September 25, 2010, and have come to the following conclusion: Poetry is getting screwed.

From 2003 through 2008 of the National Book Festival, Poetry had a pavilion of its own, with poets scheduled from start to finish. The National Endowment for the Arts sponsored the Poetry pavilion from 2004-2008.

Last year, the Poetry pavilion morphed into the Poetry & Prose pavilion, still sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Poetry & Prose pavilion featured five poets among the twelve readers, one of which was Poet Laureate Kay Ryan. The rest of the authors were a mixture of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir writers, despite the fact that there were other pavilions specifically for "Fiction & Fantasy" as well as "History & Biography." The slippery slope had begun...

And now, in 2010, the slide continues as the Poetry & Prose pavilion features a mere three poets. No NEA sponsorship. No reading by the Poet Laureate. The other seven pavilion readers are fiction writers, despite there being a separate "Fiction & Mystery" pavilion.

One telling coincidence with the rise and fall of the presence of poetry at the National Book Festival is the fact that Dana Gioia, a poet, was chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts from 2003 up until January 2009. In his role as NEA Chairman, I believe Gioia elevated the importance of poetry to be equal to that of prose in the literary arts. I saw Gioia introduce many of the poets in the Poetry pavilion at past National Book Festivals, and it was always a pleasure to see, through his introductions, how passionate he was about poetry as a literary art.

I find it very saddening that with his departure from the NEA, we seem to be seeing a decline in the Library of Congress' efforts to bring poetry to the general public.

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