The White House has cancelled a poetry reading after one of the invited guests, poet Sam Hamill, suggested attendees use the forum to read anti-war poetry. The event, which was to be held Feb. 12, was entitled “Poetry and the American Voice,” and was to feature readings and discussion of work by Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman.

Two U.S. poet laureates, Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove, denounced the decision as an example of the Bush administration’s hostility to dissenting or creative voices.

“I think there was a general feeling that the current administration is not really a friend of the poetic community and that its program of attacking Iraq is contrary to the humanitarian position that is at the center of the poetic impulse,” Kunitz, the 2000-2001 poet laureate, said Jan. 30.

Dove, poet laureate from 1993 to 1995, said the action confirmed her suspicion that “this White House does not wish to open its doors to an American voice that does not echo the administration’s misguided policies.”

Hamill, editor of the highly regarded Copper Canyon Press, e-mailed friends asking for poems or statements opposing military action against Iraq.

“Make Feb. 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 read.

He had expected about 50 responses; he has gotten about 2,000 thus far, including contributions from W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Hamill will post all the submissions at www.poetsagainstthewar.org/.
Below is one of the poems submitted.

REFUSING

Refusing the invitation
I was not given,
being given instead
the invitation to refuse.
Which I accept.
Am grateful for.
The chance to be part of
the poet’s chorus,
the caucus of those
whose politics
is obvious and earnest.
Whose wishes are simple:
sensible diplomacy,
everything to be negotiated.
Tough bargaining,
but easy on the violence.
That’s what we poets
learned from poems:
it’s all on the table,
but it’s stupid
to break up the table
with an axe,
to splinter the chairs.

And it’s madness
to ask poets to celebrate,
when people can’t even
breathe deeply
for fear of war’s imminence.

– Gregory Orr

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