First lady Laura Bush was planning to host a celebration of American
poetry at the White House today. Instead, poets all over the world will read
verse protesting the possible war in Iraq.
Bush's "Poetry and the American Voice" symposium was canceled after several
prominent poets -- including former U.S. poet laureates Rita Dove and Stanley
Kunitz -- declined her invitation. The White House feared the event would
become less a literary event than a political forum.
Instead of booking flights to Washington, many poets contributed anti-war
poems to a hastily created Web site. The protest took on a life of its own,
and now more than 150 events are scheduled for today in U.S. cities such as
San Francisco and New York, Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Dubuque, Iowa. Overseas,
there will be readings in Guadalajara, Mexico, Oslo, Norway, and Oxford,
England. There will be at least four events today in the Bay Area.
One of the invited poets, Sam Hamill, co-founder of poetry publisher Copper
Canyon Press in Port Townsend, Wash., declined with a flourish. He urged
friends to observe "A National Day of Poetry Against the War" and to
contribute anti-war poems to a new Web site, www.poetsagainstthewar.org. He
said he planned to present a printed version of the poems to the White House
on Feb. 12.
Word spread, and more than 5,300 poems were collected, many from the
brightest literary talents in America, including Adrienne Rich, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, Philip Levine and Diane DiPrima. Hamill said he had expected
about 50 responses.
"It was never my intention to close down her poetry tea party," Hamill said,
"but I had to make a statement. There isn't just a war being planned against
Iraq, there's a war going on against the Constitution."
After Bush, who has hosted several lively literary events at the White
House, postponed the event late last month, her office issued a statement:
"While Mrs. Bush understands the right of all Americans to express their
political views, this event was designed to celebrate poetry." The symposium
has not been rescheduled.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine, who lives in Fresno and New York,
said that after he received his invitation, "I didn't have time to think
about much of anything before the phone began to ring. I realized right away
there was a sort of industry being created not to go to the White House."
He has fond memories of poetry nights during both the Carter and Clinton
administrations. "I can see poets of all kinds going to the White House in
World War II. But this war -- it's all too disguised to limit our personal
rights, to make sure Bush gets a second term, and to show the world that we're
serious about pre-emptive action and everybody better be good little children
Poets not invited to the White House event also joined the protest.
Poet Carolyn Kizer of Sonoma, the first director of the Literature Program
at the National Endowment for the Arts, from 1965 to '70, said, "As soon as I
heard about the protest, I hastily sent off a poem." Of the current
administration, she said, "They are leading us down the road to terrible
San Francisco poet DiPrima contributed a poem called "Good Clean Fun,"
written in the early '90s, to Hamill's Web site. "I was sick with thinking
about how often terrorist acts are perpetuated by our government and not
called terrorism," she said. DiPrima said the importance of poetry had been
building since Sept. 11. She has helped to launch "peace readings" on the
anniversary of that day.
When Reiko Redmonde, events coordinator of the all-volunteer collective
Revolution Books in Berkeley, heard about the Web site, she sprang into action.
"We thought it was so wonderful, we called poets we knew, and they called
poets they knew, young and old, from all over the Bay Area." The store quickly
set up a reading of anti-war poetry, scheduled for 7:30 tonight.
POETRY READINGS TODAY
In Peace and Poetry: An open reading sponsored by PoetryTelevision.com, 1 p.
m., at Yerba Buena Children's Garden, 760 Howard St. at Third, S.F. (One poem
per poet.) Call (415) 503-4170, ext. 185, or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guerrilla Poetry Reading: At 5 p.m. -- wherever you are, whatever your
politics -- Youth Speaks/The Living Word Project asks that you stop and read a
poem aloud. "Enter your voice into the national movement," says James Kass of
Youth Speaks. For information, visit www.youthspeaks.org.
Poetry and the American Voice Has Been Cancelled: An open forum for art,
poetry and performance against war, co-sponsored by the Poetry Center, 7 to 9
p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia St., San Francisco. Suggested
donation $3 to $5 for Artists Action Network Web site. For information, call
(415) 282-9246 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Poets Against the War: James Kass, Adelle and Jack Foley, Shailja Patel,
Marvin X and others read at 7:30 p.m. , at Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way,
Berkeley. Open mike after scheduled poets, if time allows. Call (510) 848-
Anti-War Poetry: Open microphone, 7:30 p.m., Mama Bears Women's Bookstore,
6536 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; $2 donation. "Come and read an anti-war poem
that you or someone else has written -- or just lend your spirit."
Sacramento Poets Against the War: Open microphone poetry event, 7 p.m., The
Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento. For information, call (916) 442-
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle