Pulitzer-prize winning nature poet Gary Snyder's reading seemed like an unlikely source of controversy.


In 10,000 years
the Sierra will be dry and dead
home of the scorpion

But it's not the verse that had critics crying out in indignation. 

The reading series is being funded by tax dollars.With California in the midst of an energy crisis, some people are wondering why that money isn't being used towards tapping new energy sources instead.

"There is a time and place to listen to poetry, and read poetry and to enjoy poetry," said Republican state Sen. Ray Haynes. "In taxpayer-owned buildings, on taxpayer time, with taxpayer money ... is not the time to do it."

The state resources agency raised $12,000 for five poetry readings from sources like the Department of Forestry, Parks and Recreation and the California Energy Commission.

"I think it's a very modest expenditure for the amount of joy and the amount of education that's been spread," said California Resources Agency Secretary Mary Nichols.

But critics argue that the state can't afford to spend its money in this way.

"This is money that the Energy Commission could be using to site power plants," said Haynes. "It's not a whole lot towards it, but it's something."

Nichols is optimistic about the long-term social effects of the project, and hopes that interest in the readings will translate into interest in the environment.

"The small amount of money that was used to pay for the meetings themselves is part of an overall education budget of the state, and it's a very good investment in public outreach," she said.

Snyder agrees, and defends the use of tax-sponsored poetry readings as a public service.

"It's the way they should use my tax money!" he said. "It bridges scientific information with imagination. As a society and as a community, we need the arts, or our lives are just essentially lived in the desert."

But Haynes responded to that with his own bit of poetry, and the very last word:

"I think they ought to do it on their own time, with their own dime ... not ours."

Claudia Cowan currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) San Francisco-based correspondent. She joined the network in 1998.