Through her work as First Lady, Laura Bush has revitalized American poetry. She didn't mean to, of course, or at least, not in the way that it happened.
Artists these days, Mrs. Bush has found out, have the outlandish idea that they can address political questions through their creations. In particular, she has learned that poets seem to think that, through their considered words, they have the right to criticize whoever they want. Oh, the audacity!
You see, Mrs. Bush has decided that as long as she and her husband are occupying the White House, she can make use of their great new home by holding all sorts of parties, inviting all kinds of rich and well-respected people over to dinner. What a hoot that would be!
Although it was never stated outright, Mrs. Bush always assumed that the people she invited would show proper respect to her husband by not saying anything to contradict Mr. Bush's political policies. Mrs. Bush's White House dinners were going along just swimmingly, for awhile. Famous people would come to eat with Mrs. Bush, smile at her, and tell her what an honor it was to be invited.
You can imagine the shock Mrs. Bush felt when she learned that a group of prominent poets she had invited to the White House for a special discussion dinner somehow got it into their heads that they would be able to freely discuss whatever ideas inspire them in their work. These poets thought that discussing ideas was what the White House dinner series was all about, and well, some of them wanted to discuss the war that Mrs. Bush's husband was trying to start with Iraq.
Mrs. Bush was blind-sided by the concept that poets might want to address political issues in their work. She was deeply angered that some poets she had invited to the White House were planning to read poems that expressed anti-war ideas. Outraged at the thought that any poet might dare to challenge her husband's policies, Mrs. Bush cancelled the White House poetry dinner, preferring to reject the company of all poets than to acknowledge the power of their words, as prominent in their field as they might be.
You see, Mrs. Bush hadn't quite understood what it was that poets did. She thought that poets just wrote about horses, and flowers, and falling in love, and children, and sometimes fairies. Her idea for the literary dinner at the White House was that she would get to hear some nice rhymes to go with her roast chicken, and that everyone would speak nicely about polite topics. She assumed that poetry was a non-political form expression.
Well, the poets that Mrs. Bush had invited to the White House dinner were pretty upset when the dinner was canceled. They thought that it was strange that the government would support poetry, but only so long as it didn't contradict the ideas of the President. The poets seemed to think that the abrupt cancellation of the poetry dinner at the White House signaled an attempt to control artistic expression. They considered it condescending that Mrs. Bush had invited them to visit the White House because of the recognition that their poems had received, but then attempted to tell them what kind of dinner conversation they would be allowed to have.
Well, it was Mrs. Bush's party, after all, and she could cry if she wanted to. It's never been within the power of poets to demand audiences with the First Lady. It is within their power, however, to speak. If Mrs. Bush would disinvite the poets from her White House dinner, they would simply display their poems elsewhere.
These poets set up a website called Poets Against The War, where the poets who had been snubbed by Laura Bush could present the poetry that she had sought to silence. They just intended to publish a few poems, but word of the project quickly spread. Before they knew it, thousands of poets had submitted their works to the website, in resistance to the efforts of Mrs. Bush to silence literary statements against her husband's war. So many anti-war poems have been contributed to the website that Sam Hamill, who owns and operates the web site, has had to provide an index to the poems in alphabetical order, by name of contributing poet.
In addition to the thousands of new anti-war poems inspired by Laura Bush's efforts to censor voices for peace, hundreds of anti-war poetry readings have been organized across America and in other nations. So, where the First Lady thought that she could discourage poetry for peace, her refusal to listen to such poetry has actually inspired anti-war poets to produce much more material than they ever would have if she had just allowed them to come to her White House poetry social in the first place.
Some poets have a special word for this kind of unintended consequence: blowback.
In sympathy with the anti-war poets who were snubbed by Laura Bush, we've written an anti-war poem of our own: Code Orange. It describes the way that the Orange Alert proclaimed by the Department of Homeland Security was used as an excuse to ban an anti-war poetry reading that had been scheduled at the Federal Building in Syracuse, New York. It seems that the Bush Administration just has it in for poets.
A young friend of ours named Billy has also written his own poem to protest the policies of Mrs. Bush's husband.
That just goes to show you: the more you try to stamp out peaceful poets, the more their words spread. Do we think that the Bush Administration will learn this lesson? Who has seen the wind?
Don't let us do all the talking. Talk back!
We're eager for your contribution. Get your thoughts down, organize them coherently into an irregular essay, then submit it to us for publication!