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National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction Of $1.3 Billion Poem
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picture of the NEA project report, titled The
from The Onion
NEA chairman Mark Barnes announces the
allocation of $45 million for additional
WASHINGTONâ��The National Endowment for the Arts
announced Monday that it has begun construction
on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poemâ��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 world."
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 "soul."
"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
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
"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
"The government needs to stop throwing billions
of dollars at the arts," he added.
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
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