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Gioia's Nomination to Arts Agency Matters

November 09, 2002

In noting poet and critic Dana Gioia's nomination for chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bill Press (Commentary, Nov. 3) challenges Gioia's assertion that L.A. has produced no great poet by adducing Charles Bukowski. There is no doubt Bukowski has written memorably of L.A. -- but when the issue is greatness, I doubt many would agree with Press. By quoting that dreadful pablum beginning "Nobody can save you but yourself," he unwittingly defeats his own argument -- though, in Bukowski's defense, it must be allowed that no poet is always at his best.

Gioia (whom Press refers to twice as "Danny Gioia") and Bukowski agree on a matter of greater significance: the importance of California poet Robinson Jeffers. Gioia has repeatedly championed Jeffers, in principled opposition to the neglect of the "academy," and Bukowski is on record in both poetry and prose in acknowledging his debt to Jeffers.

Gioia's influential article "Can Poetry Matter?" made waves that still have not subsided more than 10 years later. Press says that nobody much cares whether Gioia wins confirmation. Thoughtful Californians will.

Rob Kafka

Santa Monica

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