NEA Funds Construction of $1.3 Billion 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

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

The poem is expected not only to revitalize the community, Gioia said, but
also create jobs for the nation’s hundreds of out-of-work poets. According to
the proposed budget, the poem’s 224 authors have allocated $4 million for the
final rhyming couplet, $52 million to insert hyphens into the word “tomorrow” so
it reads “to-morrow,” $7.45 for a used copy of John Keats’ Selected Poems
for ideas and inspiration, and $450 million for a simile likening human fate to
the wind.

Some experts, however, say the poem is already at risk of going over budget,
citing the soaring $5,000-per-square-inch cost of vellum, and an ambitious but
perhaps ill-conceived $135 million undertaking to make the word “owl” rhyme with

“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.”

Gioia denied allegations that the poem is being mismanaged, claiming that he
has implemented several measures to keep the project on schedule, including
giving no more than two words to each poet, limiting alliteration and assonance
to a maximum of three words per line, cutting out all extraneous allusions to
Eliot and Yeats, and restricting any unwieldy metaphors hinting at the vast
alienation of modernity.

Although the poem is still in the early stages of construction, it has
already come under fire for serious structural issues, including a shaky
foundation and a half-dozen partial synecdoches.

“This poem is an eyesore,” said literary critic Stanley Fish. “The whole
right side of the verse is barely being held up by a load-bearing enjambment,
and it seems as if they just sloppily patched up all the holes in the piece with
plagiarized Rod McKuen passages.”

In addition, the tenuous line that was being drawn between the narrator’s
mortality and winter unexpectedly collapsed on itself Monday. Two poets were
killed in the incident.

“Sure, some of the imagery might be beautiful, but is this poem actually
going to be useful?” Fish said. “Or are people just going to look at it and go,
‘Huh. Interesting.’ Why not put this money toward something everybody can enjoy,
like a TV pilot or a New Yorker cartoon caption?”

“The government needs to stop throwing billions of dollars at the arts,” he

Fish cautioned that previous attempts to funnel money into poetry had been
cut short before they were fully completed, resulting in the large number of
unfinished, million-dollar poems that are still lying unread across the country
to this day.

via The


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