Friday, September 23, 2005

Sword, meet Pen

Sharon Olds has long been one of my favorite poets. Aside from being a sublime and powerful writer--there are still huge swaths of The Father that I can't get through without tears and goosebumps, and it's not even her best stuff--it was nice knowing that someone at NYU had a soul during the years that John Brademas was executing his scorched earth policy toward Greenwich Village and areas of academic study that did not attract corporate dollars (it was nice having Galway Kinnell around, too).

Another reason to love her is that she's a pretty good letter writer, too:

Laura Bush
First Lady
The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.
So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.
I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

As the editors at The Nation pointed out, Jules Feiffer similarly shredded an invitation from the First Lady a few years back, for pretty much the same reasons. Maybe Ron Silver can make himself available to do a reading from "My Pet Goat."


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