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Author`s name Michael Simpson

Laura Bush Weak in American Poetry - 24 February, 2003

Laura Bush used to be a librarian, that is why she thinks she is obliged to be responsible for the problems of American literature. But she has recently had a fiasco which may inevitably cause negative consequences to George W. Bush’s career.

The problem is that at first Laura Bush decided to organize a poetic symposium “Poetry and the American Voice” and to invite leading lyric poets of the country to the symposium. But later, she postponed the event as she was scared with its orientation.

As it turned out, poets who were invited to the symposium strongly protested against a prospective war in Iraq and were ready to declare their protests publicly anywhere. The explanation to the pacifist sentiments popular in American poetry is rather simple.

The American nation has been happily living without any total war for a rather long period already. They have lost the art of waging a war; those local wars in which the USA participated, cost a lot to  the nation and entailed several lost generations.

As the USA attaches a rather great importance to personality, an enormous stratum of American culture – literature, cinema and publicism, was dedicated to thousands of personalities mutilated at war.

Poets, being the most sensitive members of the society, immediately raised the alarm when they perceived the threat to the American personality in a new war. That is why Laura Bush decided to postpone the symposium in order to avoid more criticism in the address of the US President George W. Bush to be openly said at the event she organized.

However, the poets decided not to surrender without battle. As one of America’s leading poets Billy Collins says, even those poets who usually keep away from politics, cannot but voice their protests now: they cannot isolate themselves in lyric poetry while the country is being involved into a war.

Billy Collins is the US Poet Laureate; it is a honorary non-political position established by the US Congress Library.

Collins’ predecessors on this post also share his opinion, these people are Richard Wilbur, Stanley Kunitz, Rite Dove and Nobel Prize laureate Derek Walcott. In January, about 40 poets signed an appeal not to wage a war in Iraq.
 
In response to the postponement of the poetry symposium, the day of February 12 (the day for which the symposium was originally scheduled) was declared the Day of Poets Against the War. US poets have united in poetic protests and declaimed their anti-war poetry all over the country. Thousands of people took part in about 160 actions organized by the poets. Writer Paul Auster spoke in the New York University. He said: “We must make them hear us. The American mass media suppress any conversations on the war problem in the country or in the world on the whole. Our duty of citizens of a democratic state is to debate with a view to express out protests.”
 
At that, the harsh criticism of poets in the address of George W. Bush wasn’t avoided. Poet Sam Hamill, the organizer of the protest action said in Washington: “Reaction of the First Lady demonstrated that the White House poorly understands poetry. Even if a poem is created in solitude, it is all the same the social language that is used for making the poem.” From the poet’s point of view, all poems are political to some extent. Sam Hamill appealed to poets and asked them to email their anti-war poems to him. 

The idea became actually very popular: Hamill publishes poems of professional and amateur poets on the Internet; there are over 10.000 publications on a special website as of now. Hamill re-sent selected texts (not less than 3.500 poems) directly to Laura Bush.

Here is one of the poems from the Internet site. The pathos of the poem reveals the strength of the emotional tension among American poets.

A superior sin is willful and offensive war,
All others in crusty cowardice circumscribed
Cannot by one, alone, be given extension.
Lesser sins, sad contemplations all,
Boast only of minor infections; but...
He who is the author of war,
Lets loose the whole contagion of hell,
And opens the vein that bleeds his nation.
What issues will determine the character,
Time will give it a name as lasting as his own
We feel no thirst for such savage glory;
A nobler flame, a purer spirit animates
Our taking up of a sword of virtuous defense;
Bravely thrust between tyranny and freedom,
Between a curse and a blessing,
Expelling the one and protecting the other.
 
This is a poem by Abraham Aaran-Lee, 60, from Florida.

In the words of poetess Rite Dove, the postponement of the symposium demonstrates the White House’s hostility toward opinions that disagree with its line. Lawrence Ferlinghetti says, it is a naive idea to invite poets to the White House at the time when the government is scheming a war.
 
 Merilin Nelson, an official poet of Connecticut, says that poets, as keepers of freedom and love, must by definition be enemies to the government, especially when the latter wages a war. And she can hardly understand why Laura Bush meant the symposium to be non-political under such conditions.

On the whole, the charisma of Laura Bush, one of America’s most beautiful women, proved to be not so strong to contain the pressure of American poets. When Laura Bush visited Russia and together with Lyudmila Putina read a fairy tale in English to Russian children, everything went OK, and children felt no political reminiscence. They didn’t say anything at least. 
 
Yelena Kiseleva
PRAVDA.Ru