Friday, May 18, 2007

Poetry in Motion

I received this email from a former colleague that I new I had to share. Of course, I don't know of its origin or validity, but it is quite interesting:

Subject: Sharon Olds, Poet, declines White House Invitation

The power of poetry In a culture like ours, one sometimes forgets the power of a poet's words. Here is an open letter from the poet Sharon Olds to Laura Bush declining the invitation to read & speak at the National Book Critics Circle Award in Washington ,DC. Feel free to forward it if you feel more people may want to read it. Sharon Olds is one of most widely read & critically acclaimed poets living in America today.

Laura Bush
First Lady, The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,
I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on Sept 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House. In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, & in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure,& the inner & outer news, it delivers. And the concept of a community of readers & writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women's prison, several NYC public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for 20 years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates & their students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage & wisdom, become our teachers. When you have witnessed someone non-speaking & almost non-moving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion & essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely non-speaking & non-moving (except for the eyes), & pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the 1st letter of the 1st word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, & she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty & wit--& the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story & song. So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books & meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, & to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture & another country - with the resultant loss of life & limb for our brave soldiers, & for the non-combatants in their home terrain - did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" & forced on the people by distorted language, & by un-truths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny & religious chauvinism - the opposites of the liberty, tolerance & diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness - as an American who loves her country and its principles & its writing - against this undeclared & devastating war. But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, high handed actions of the Bush Administration. What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war & that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us. So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish & shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds & fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives & the flames of the candles, & I could not stomach it.

Sharon Olds

1 comment:

Joy said...

I got this email, too, and checked Snopes about it because it reminded me of one I got before which was attributed to another writer. There was nothing there about it, so I guess it's valid and hope it is.