Stephenson, Gioia, Kooser

Michael Giberson

Three writers, each in some way suggesting an interplay between economy and literature.

Lynne’s mention of Cryptonomicon reminded me that Neal Stephenson was on the Mall last Saturday participating in the National Book Festival. He filled up the Sci Fi and Fantasy tent with a crowd of enthusiastic readers. I arrived a few minutes into the Q&A session, and Stephenson was explaining that he wouldn’t be writing a sequel to Snow Crash. In fact, he said, he can’t guarantee what he will or won’t be writing about next, because until he doesn’t know what he will write next until he begins working on it. A Snow Crash sequel was unlikely to be in his future.

After an audience member asked about the dystopian turn in Sci Fi in the sixties and seventies, Stephenson said that any thinking person who watched very many episodes of Star Trek has got to wonder, ‘Who pays the taxes that supports the Enterprise?’ Stephenson noted with respect to his work, some readers see Snow Crash and Diamond Age as utopian and other readers see them as dystopian.

Seeing Stephenson was just a bonus for me, I’m a fan of poet/critic/government bureaucrat Dana Gioia, and so I trekked down to the book festival to see a few of the poets presenting in the middle of the day. The poetry pavilion was co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts – of which Gioia is chairman – and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). I hadn’t heard about PCAH before, but according to the program, PCAH “helps to incorporate the arts and humanities into White House objectives.”

I was anxious to see Ted Kooser, newly appointed Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress, and R. S. Gwynn. I like Kooser’s poem, “Tom Ball’s Barn,” which connects the dots – but indirectly, gracefully – between a too small bank loan and the death of a farmer. I’ve only read a few other poems by Kooser, and now I’ve heard him read a few himself, and for the most part to me the poems seem just too plain spoken and simple.

I picked up Gioia’s book, Disappearing Ink, at the festival. The title essay updates and explores the argument Gioia began in Can Poetry Matter? Gioia, who has graduate degrees in both business and literature and spent fifteen years toiling in the corporate world, has had some provocative insights into the institutional and economic forces shaping the poetry world (for good and ill).