Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hancock Finds No Rhyme or Reason in Grant to Poet

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hancock Finds No Rhyme or Reason in Grant to Poet

Article excerpt

Colleagues shared Michael Burns' joy when the college professor and poet was awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to use as he saw fit.

"Naturally, we wanted his winning the award to be good news that we could celebrate," said Rosemary Keefe Curb, head of the English department at Southwest Missouri State University, where Burns teaches creative writing.

But Burns' mood isn't so festive these days. From newspaper letters to the editor to the halls of Congress, he and the federal arts agency have been roundly criticized by those who say taxpayers shouldn't be financing artists in these lean budget times.

"I have nothing against (Burns) personally, and I regret the need to use him as an example," Rep. Mel Hancock, R-Mo., said on the House floor this week. "But this sort of routine grant is exactly what is wrong with the NEA."

Burns, 41, was among artists nationwide who shared $24 million in grants from the NEA in February. From the Lyric Opera of Kansas City ($9,000) to Opera Theatre of St. Louis ($104,440), Missouri artists and arts organizations received nearly $250,000 from the NEA for the first quarter of 1995.

Burns said his grant would allow him to complete one book of poems and start another. The money also means that Burns, whose annual salary is $42,000, can take a year off from teaching summer classes to devote more time to writing and research.

"I have less stress. I have a clearer creative mind," he said.

Burns, whose poems have explored regional topics ranging from frog gigging to a manhunt for a cop killer, used part of the grant proceeds to buy a new dishwasher and a plane ticket to a conference. He's also shopping for a new computer to write poetry on.

"I'll spend most of it in this community," he told the Springfield News-Leader.

But several readers wrote to the newspaper blasting Burns and siding with conservatives in Congress who are seeking to slash the arts agency's budget, contending it is elitist and misspends taxpayer money, often on controversial artists. …

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