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A dozen poets criticized the Bush administration’s stance on war with Iraq at a reading in the Loeb Drama Center last night, capping off a day of events in observation of national Poets Against War Day.
Professors and poets gathered at readings throughout Cambridge in response to the Bush administration’s cancellation of the symposium “Poetry and the American Voice” scheduled to be held yesterday at the White House.
First Lady Laura Bush had planned the event, but called it off after learning that some poets might use the occasion to express opposition to a possible war with Iraq.
Marquand Professor of English Peter M. Sacks began last night’s event at Harvard by reading from a letter written by his wife, Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory Jorie Graham.
The letter emphasized the purpose of the poetry reading as a forum to share poems and also to express political feelings through poetry.
Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English and American Literature and Language Doug A. Powell protested the possibility of war with Iraq and the way that the Bush administration handled the White House Poetry Symposium.
“I am opposed to the war, but what I think is important is not so much just that people should voice their dissent...because the present administration somehow feels that poetry should be a pretty thing that in no way does anything political,” he said.
Powell said that the Bush administration wants to put forth a “soft-core reality” rather than allow writers to express their dissent.
The White House’s actions limit the free speech of poets, he said, showing “how ephemeral and fleeting these freedoms and rights we take for granted really are.”
Poets also read works of dissent at the Wordsworth Bookstore, the Grolier Poetry Shop, the Cambridge Public Library and in front of the Science Center throughout the day yesterday.
Grolier sponsored an open-mike hour for poetry, politics and freedom of speech held in Adams House in the middle of the night.
Members of the poetry community there read works ranging from 16th century poetry to contemporary Iraqi poetry.
Powell chose to read poems written by Middle Eastern women poets, praising their “clarity about issues.”
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky read from his letter to Laura Bush in which he declined the invitation to speak at the White House’s “Poetry and the American Voice” symposium.
“I feel unwilling to take part in an event that is about The American Voice, in the singular,” said Pinsky.
Audience members at the Loeb event last night said they were impressed by the poets’ stance.
“It is good for Harvard to show some sort of activism. There hasn’t been much. Poetry is not standard, but powerful,” said Alinna W. Chung ’04.
The idea for the national Poets Against War Day began when Samuel Hamill, founder of the Poets Against the War protest movement, sent an open letter calling for all poets to make Feb. 12 a day to speak out against Bush’s proposed attack on Iraq after he received an invitation to the White House symposium.
—Material from the Associated Press was used in the compilation of this article.
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