[JPL] A Brief Auto-Biographical Story --- by Dana Gioia, NEA Chairman

Peter Poses pposes at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 29 07:47:43 EDT 2007

"JPL": Howzzit --- FYI. This appeared in "The NYT". Mr. Gioia is integral in
the selection of The NEA Jazz Masters. He is also the Brother of the Jazz
Author, Ted Gioia. UTNG, dig, djsos aka Peter L. Poses, Host of "OverNight
Jazz: The Soundz Of Surprize" from 'Round MidNight Thurzz. to 6AM Fri. on
KRFC FT COLLINS (CO) - "Come Together On HomeGrown Community Radio" -
88.9FM --- www.krfcfm.org. Poses is Associate Editor of "The Rocky Mountain
Jazz Beat" ---
www.rockymountainjazz.com, contributin' a weekly column to the Jazz.com for
N. CO & The Front Range, Ned Radinsky, Publisher/Editor-In-Chief and Jazz
Photographer. KRFC FT COLLINS, 88.9FM                                 "Come
Together On HomeGrown Community Radio" 619 S. College Ave., #4, Ft. Collins,
CO 80525

October 28, 2007
The Boss
A Poet in the Supermarket
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Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

AGE 56

HOMETOWN Hawthorne, Calif.


INSTRUMENT HE PLAYS Piano (classically trained)

MY father was Italian and my mother was Mexican. I was raised in an extended
family of immigrants, by people who spoke Sicilian in a Mexican
neighborhood. Having a multilingual childhood is a typical American
childhood, but we never credit it as such. My parents had several jobs. I
was happy but lonely, so I spent a huge amount of time reading.

My mother was part of the last generation to memorize poetry in school. She
knew dozens of poems by heart, including some by Longfellow, Poe and Ogden
Nash, and was constantly reciting them to me. Poor people are much smarter
than people think. My family was full of brilliant people who were curiously
sidelined and never went far in life.

I often say I’m the only person who ever went to business school to be a
poet. I realized when I was 19 or 20 I was going to be a poet. I had no idea
how to make a living writing poetry, so I assumed I’d become a professor. I
went to graduate school at Harvard and studied comparative literature.

I loved Harvard, but I was learning to write in a way that most people didn’
t understand. I was being trained as a literary theorist. I’ve worked since
I was 9, in family businesses, so I wanted to have a career. I enrolled in
the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

I’ve always thought of myself as having two careers, one as a poet and the
other as making a living. I figured that since Wallace Stevens and T. S.
Eliot managed to combine business careers and literature, I could do the

I rose to vice president at General Foods, which was an extremely demanding
and competitive organization. Coming from an intellectual and artistic
background, I found the first couple of years difficult. Each year I liked
it more. If you have a creative background, the higher you rise in a
corporation, the more valuable your skills.

I didn’t let anyone there know I was a poet, except my girlfriend, who is
now my wife. I didn’t think it would help me. This was in the 1970s, when
corporate life was very different. I took over the Jell-O business, which
had been declining for 20 years.

I was told by the previous manager that nothing I could do would help and
that my purpose was to manage it gracefully downward. Instead, we turned it
into a vibrant growth business through a creative marketing breakthrough:
Jell-O Jigglers.

Here is how we did it: Every day for a year a group of us would meet after
lunch and try every recipe ever devised for Jell-O. They were all elaborate
and time-consuming. Finally we happened upon a recipe for small slices of
concentrated Jell-O that you could pick up with your fingers.

I had all the men on the team make them with me. We figured if we could make
them, anyone could. We added the idea of shapes and negotiated with Bill
Cosby to advertise them. Every box in the U.S. sold off the shelves.

My job at the National Endowment for the Arts is oddly similar: to
understand how to take all the agency’s resources and, in addition to
everything else we’re doing, come up with a few ideas that are

I would tell young poets worried about struggling to make a living at their
craft to consider alternatives in business before launching an academic
career. A poet always struggles. If you work in business, you have the
freedom to choose the ring you struggle in. There are many jobs in which a
creative person who can write excels.

An N.E.A. grant can be a watershed in a writer’s career. It’s the first time
some people can write full time. The grant is financial, but also
validating. Honor can be even more valuable than money to artists. It gives
them the right to take their artistic vocation more seriously.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

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