Bush White House Fears Poetry:
Laura Bush Postpones White House symposium
"Poetry: The American Voice"

Bush White House Fears Poetry:
Laura Bush Postpones White House Symposium "Poetry: The American Voice"

by J. Zimmerman

February 12, 2003, is the first "Day of Poetry Against the War."

First Lady Laura Bush canceled her invitation to poets to a reception for "Poetry and the American Voice" at The United States White House on February 12, 2003.

This was her reaction to the grass-roots activity of Poetry Against the War, inspired primarily (though among many) by reception invitee Sam Hamill, the Pushcart Prize winning poet and the founding editor of Copper Canyon Press.

* February 12: Day of Poetry Against the War.
* "Postponed" Symposium: "Poetry and the American Voice"
* Sam Hamill's response to Symposium invitation.
* Responses to Symposium cancellation.
* Commentary from Ariadne's Web.
* Public Radio (KUSP) Commentary.
* Missing response from poet Dana Gioia, NEA Chair.
* About Sam Hamill.

February 12: "Day of Poetry Against the War"

February 12, 2003, is the first "Day of Poetry Against the War."

Poet and publisher Sam Hamill is compiling an anthology of protest against the War, which was to have been presented to First Lady Laura Bush at the "postponed" Symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice".

Sam Hamill has invited every poet who reads this story:

Actions that you can take include:

"Postponed" Symposium: Poetry and the American Voice.

By the special invitation of First Lady Laura Bush, several poets including Mr. Sam Hamill, Mr. Stanley Kunitz (USA poet laureate 2000-2001 ), and Ms. Rita Dove (USA poet laureate 1993-1995) were to attend a reception for "Poetry and the American Voice" at the United States White House, on February 12, 2003.

The Symposium, to have been hosted by Ms. Bush, was to have centered on the work of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and Walt Whitman.

A statement from Ms. Bush's press office on Wednesday, January 29, 2003, announced the "postponement" of the event with no future date given.

But will they ever dare to reschedule the symposium at a later date when Mr. Hamill will have collected even more poems against the Administration's War? If this is truthfully a cancellation rather than a postponement, why don't they say so?

[Ariadne's Web sees this "postponement" as a cancellation: if the White House does hold a "Poetry and the American Voice" Symposium at a future date, we predict that its guest list will be radically rebuilt, excluding the outspoken invitees such as Mr. Hamill, Mr. Kunitz, and Ms. Dove. We imagine it will be replaced by an event more compliant with the current Administration's restrictions.]

The statement included:

"It came to the attention of the first lady's office that some invited guests 
want to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum ...

While Mrs. Bush understands the right of all Americans to express 
their political views, this event was designed to celebrate poetry."

This puzzles Ariadne's Web.

We believe that the Administration uses the White House as a political symbol and tool, and that any event that occurs in the White House is inherently "a political forum." Further comments from Ariadne's Web are below.

Sam Hamill's response to Symposium invitation.

Here is a portion of the email sent by Sam Hamill to his colleagues, following his invitation by Laura Bush to her White House Symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice." The e-mail was so widely circulated and has been so widely shared on the World Wide Web that it is, in effect, a press release from Sam Hamill:

  January 19, 2003

  Dear Friends and Fellow Poets:

  When I picked up my mail and saw the letter marked "The  
  White House," I felt no joy. Rather I was overcome by a
  kind of nausea as I read the card enclosed:
  Only the day before, I had read a lengthy report on the
  President's proposed "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq,
  calling for saturation bombing that would be like the
  firebombing of Dresden or Tokyo, killing countless
  innocent civilians.

  I believe the only legitimate response to such a morally
  bankrupt and unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a
  Poets Against the War movement like the one organized to
  speak out against the war in Vietnam.

  I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of
  our country and lend his or her name to our petition
  against this war, and to make February 12 a day of
  Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology
  of protest to be presented to the White House on that 

Several poets, including Past-Laureate Kunitz and Past-Laureate Dove, rejected the symposium invitation.

[Some news reports say that Mr. Hamill also rejected his invitation. However, other reports say that he accepted the invitation in order to be able to attend and make the presentation of the "anthology of protest" on February 12. We will update this information when we know which is correct.]

Responses to the Symposium cancellation.

Mr. Kunitz's response was, "the current administration is not really a friend of the poetic community and ... its program of attacking Iraq is contrary to the humanitarian position that is at the center of the poetic impulse."

Ms. Dove said, "this White House does not wish to open its doors to an 'American voice' that does not echo the administration's misguided policies."

Most poets would join Mr. Kunitz and Ms. Dove in seeing the cancellation as another example of the Bush administration's hostility to dissenting voices.

Poetry submissions to Sam Hamill's call for poems against the war have been collected at website http://www.PoetsAgainstTheWar.org. Within 2 weeks of his call, over 3000 poets had responded, including: Galway Kinnell, Adrienne Rich, Gregory Orr, Marilyn Hacker, John Balaban, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Commentary from Ariadne's Web.

Ariadne's Web agrees with the statement by George Orwell in Why I Write: "No book is genuinely free of political bias." [Political: "Pertaining to ... activities of government" (Funk and Wagnalls)]

To Ariadne's Web, this includes books of poetry. Therefore we assert that:

  No book of poetry is genuinely free of political bias. 
  This includes the books of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes,  
  and Walt Whitman.

The White House is a symbol of the political power of the President of the United States of America. Therefore, Ariadne's Web asserts that:

  Every publicly announced event at the White House is a political event.  

Ms. Bush's spokeswoman, Noelia Rodriguez, said, "While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum."

Ariadne's Web rejects the truth of this statement. We assert, on the contrary, that:

  Any literary event is a political forum.  

We also assert, echoing poet Matt Rabuzzi, that:

  A symposium called "Poetry and the American Voice"  
  which rejects authentic American voices is 
  disingenuous and unAmerican.

In January and early February 2003, an electronic version of a poem written in response to Sam Hamill's call could be sent to www.poetsagainstthewar.org where they were compiled. If the poet wishes, they may e-mail their poem to the White House, whose addresses (from http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/) are:

      president@whitehouse.gov  (In 2003 the President is George W. Bush) 
 vice.president@whitehouse.gov  (In 2003 the Vice President is Richard Cheney) 

Public Radio (KUSP) Commentary.

My following statement is being broadcast on NPR radio station KUSP on February 12th, 2003.

Today, February 12th, is our first "POETRY AGAINST THE WAR" Day. Let me tell you what this means, and how First Lady Laura Bush caused this to happen.

On this day, everyone who is a poet - and surely that includes you or someone you know - is invited to write and read and listen to poetry opposed to War, and specifically opposed to the Administration's planned War upon Iraq.

Poet Sam Hamill has asked poets to create a response to the possible imminent War. The resulting thousands of poems are published at www.PoetsAgainstTheWar.org.

So how does Laura Bush figure in "POETRY AGAINST THE WAR" Day?

She had invited poets to attend, on February 12th, a lunch and Symposium for "Poetry and the American Voice" at The White House.

Guests included not only Sam Hamill, but also past poets laureate Rita Dove and Stanley Kunitz. Both Laureates declined their invitations, citing their disagreement with the current Administration's plans toward War.

Sam Hamill intended to present Laura Bush at that Symposium with an anthology of Poetry Against the War.

Laura Bush has now "postponed" her Symposium, because (quote) "some invited guests want to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum." However, I assert that every publicly announced event at the White House is a political event.

Join with POETS against the War, and not only today. Celebrate poetry, life, and peace. Celebrate POETRY against the War.

Missing response from poet Dana Gioia, NEA Chair.

We have not seen a response by poet Dana Gioia, NEA Chair to Mr. Hamill's call for poems nor to Ms. Bush's symposium cancellation. Mr. Gioia has not only accumulated highly regard, praise, and awards for his poetry, but he authored the significant essay Can Poetry Matter?

Our attempts to obtain a statement from Mr. Gioia have not yet been answered.

About Sam Hamill.

Sam Hamill is the Founding Editor of Copper Canyon Press, which is a non-profit publisher of poetry.

Copper Canyon Press, founded in 1972, has published many poets including Pablo Neruda, W. S. Merwin, and Carolyn Kizer.

Mr. Hamill has authored over a dozen volumes of his own verse, and has translated and edited over 20 volumes of translations from ancient Japanese and Chinese, from Greek and Latin, and from Estonian.

Hamill taught in prisons for 14 years and served in artist-in-residence programs for two decades. He has worked with battered woman and children.

Hamill received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, and the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission. He received two Washington Governor's Arts Awards.


Buy Dumb Luck Dumb Luck: Poems (American Poets Continuum, 75)
by Sam Hamill
Buy Rexroth translation of Love Poems from the Japanese Love Poems from the Japanese (Shambhala Library)
by Kenneth Rexroth (Translator), Sam Hamill (Editor).
Books on Poetry Forms by Kenneth Rexroth (Editor), Sam Hamill (Editor), Bradford Morrow (Editor)
The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

Site Meter [Thanks for visiting.]