Lowell Snubs LBJ, Attacks Viet Policies
Robert Lowell '25' visiting professor of English, Wednesday refused an invitation to participate is a White House arts festival because of "the greatest dismay and distrust" with the Johnson Administration's foreign policy.
In a telephone interview last night, Lowell described his decision as "personal," but added, "I hope it will have some significance." He said he had received numerous phone calls and telegrams, most expressing support for his decision.
In a letter to President Johnson, Lowell explained that he originally accepted the invitation to the arts festival "some-what rapidly and greedily." But every artist knows, he said, "that he cannot enjoy public celebration without making subtle public commitments."
While stating that he was "very enthusiastic" about most of Johnson's domestic legislation and intentions. Lowell warned that "we are in danger of imperceptibly becoming an explosive and suddenly chauvinistic nation, and we may even be drifting on our way to the last nuclear ruin."
John Hersey and Saul Bellow, two other writers who were asked to read their works at the arts festival, voiced strong disagreement with the Administration's foreign policy but said that they would appear. Lowell said last night that "there is some confusion in most people's minds about what accepting an invitation to an arts festival means." Asked what acceptance does mean, he replied "It's not clear at all to me."
Hersey told the New York Times that "I have been deeply troubled by the drift toward reliance on military solutions in our foreign policy," but instead of following Lowell's lead he felt he could make "a stronger point "by reading from his Hiroshima.
Bellow, who also accepted the white House invitation, commented that "the President intends, in his own way, to encourage American artists." He went on to say that he considered the arts festival "an official function, not a political occasion which demands agreements with Mr. Johnson on all the policies of his Administration."
Lowell won a Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for his collection of poems entitled "Lord Weary's Castle." He will continue as a visiting professor in the fall, teaching a graduate seminar entitled "The Craft of Poetry."