The Georgetown Poetics Society sponsored a poetry reading Wednesday evening at Uncommon Grounds as part of the “National Day of Poetry Against the War,” the same day that a White House symposium on “Poetry and the American Voice,” hosted by First Lady Laura Bush was postponed by event organizers due to political concerns.
Georgetown alumnus Ilya Kaminsky (COL ’01) organized similar poetry readings at college campuses across the country for the “National Day of Poetry Against the War,” Georgetown Poetics Society coordinator Colleen O’Halloran (COL ’03) said.
“I hope that if you are for or against the war, you exercise your freedom of speech, which needs to be taken seriously,” O’Halloran said to audience members before the reading. “Anyone for the war is more than welcome to share their thoughts as well.”
Five Georgetown students both shared their own poetry and read another poet’s writing.
“I don’t wish to preach, but I hope to teach a lesson we all should know,” Rob Hutton (COL ’04) said. “The schoolyard bully will never fully understand why he chooses to fight / he will instead of using his head express the wrongness of his might.”
Laura Bush’s event, scheduled for earlier that day but postponed when organizers learned that political concerns might dominate the agenda, invited several prominent American poets to the White House to discuss the works of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman.
Sam Hamill, a poet and editor of Copper Canyon Press from Port Townsend, Wash. who declined an invitation to the event, compiled an anthology of 3,600 antiwar poems he intended to have someone present to the First Lady as a gift. Hamill circulated an e-mail hoping to draw 50 submissions, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 30.
“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 afternoon,” the e-mail reads.
O’Halloran said her poetry expressed her attitude after learning that her father, a member of the merchant marine, would be sent to the Persian Gulf to help with the relief effort if the United States leads an invasion in Iraq.
“The weight of terror finally lifted from our shoulders / each hit, each kill, a relief for Americans / Our soldiers, a few will die for our peace of mind. / Our sailors, some will drown for you. / Our pilots will crash or fly. / But the terror will be through, and through Iraq,” she said. “My father’s merchant ship leaves soon, / but he is not waiting for war. / The cargo is filled with our goodwill / to feed the aftermath.”
The Georgetown Poetics Society sent nearly 25 poems, including the ones read Wednesday evening, to Mrs. Bush.
Mrs. Bush, who holds a master’s degree in library science and is a former librarian, has hosted a series of literary discussions surveying different American authors and their impact on society.
“While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum,” Noelia Rodriguez, the First Lady’s press secretary, said.
Pundits have been quick to quote William Butler Yeats’ “On Being Asked for a War Poem” regarding the controversial event, which has yet to be rescheduled. Yeats wrote, “I think it better that in times like these / A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth / We have no gift to set a statesman right.”