- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

Poet Dana Gioia, who insists poets produce work the public actually wants to read, was nominated yesterday by the White House to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
If confirmed by the Senate to the four-year position, Mr. Gioia (pronounced JOY-uh), 51, would be the first poet to lead the NEA since its founding in 1965. He was considered a dark horse for a job that normally goes to experts in music, fine art or theater.
President Bush selected Mr. Gioia to fill the position that has been vacant since Michael Hammond, former director of Rice University's music department, died of a heart attack after only a few days on the job. He had replaced Bill Ivey, who retired more than a year ago.
"He shares the president's philosophy about the importance of recognizing and supporting projects of art excellence," a White House official said. "He has a vast knowledge of the arts and the literary field and is very well respected in the arts communities as well as his extensive management experience."
Mr. Gioia, who lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., is declining all interviews until after the yet-to-be-scheduled Senate hearings. He did say he voted for Mr. Bush and Mr. Bush's father, but has never met the president.
"I am not a political person and I have no political connections," he said. "As a native Californian, I'd be reluctant to leave California for anything less important than this."
Mr. Gioia's latest book of poetry, "Interrogations at Noon," won a 2002 American Book Award. He regularly reviews books for several publications, including The Washington Times, and writes for the Hudson Review, a literary quarterly, and is a music critic for San Francisco magazine.
He has a bachelor's degree and a master's in business administration from Stanford University, as well as a master's degree in comparative literature from Harvard.
Beginning in 1977, he worked for General Foods in New York, eventually becoming a vice president. Writing at night and on weekends, he also established enough of a reputation through poetry collections "Daily Horoscope" (1986) and "The Gods of Winter" (1991) to become a full-time writer in 1992.
Born in Hawthorne, Calif., in 1950, Mr. Gioia was raised in an Italian Catholic community. As an altar boy, he sang medieval Latin lyrics and was drilled in liturgy, ritual and dogma, a background that may have influenced him years later when he began pressing for what has been termed "new formalism" among poets.
His best-known work on this theme was a 1992 book "Can Poetry Matter?" that claimed American poetry belongs to a subculture of specialists whose craft is increasingly irrelevant to the general public.
"Daily newspapers no longer review poetry," he wrote in a 1991 Atlantic Monthly article by the same title. "There is, in fact, little coverage of poetry or poets in the general press. From 1984 until this year, the National Book Awards dropped poetry as a category. Leading critics rarely review it. In fact, virtually no one reviews it except other poets."
Mr. Gioia is married and the father of two sons, Ted, 13, and Mike, 9. A third son, his firstborn child, died in 1987 from sudden infant death syndrome at the age of four months.
He could not write for a year after that, he says.


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