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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Rally To Read

It began simply enough when First Lady Laura Bush, a former librarian and champion of literacy causes, sent out invitations to poets across the nation for a gala White House event to celebrate the American voice. The invitation read as follows: “Laura Bush requests the pleasure of your companyat a reception and White House symposium on ‘Poetry and the American Voice’ on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at one o’clock.”

Sam Hamill, poet and editor of Cooper Canyon Press, received this invitation around the same time U.S. President George W. Bush detailed his plan for an impending war against Iraq. As Bush called for saturation bombing reminiscent of Dresden and Tokyo, Hamill’s stomach tied in knots.

The First Lady’s Symposium was designated to celebrate the works of legendary American Poets Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. Evidently lacking a sense of irony, Mrs. Bush solicited the services of a number of contemporary U.S. poets with a seemingly nonpartisan selection process to celebrate the works of the aforementioned poets, each one known to have written work against the horror of war.

Dickinson wrote of the dangers of disagreeing with the masses. Whitman, a medical volunteer during the Civil War, illuminated the futility of war and the prostitution of political offices in his most poignant pieces. Hughes was the target of FBI surveillance and the wrath of Sen. Joseph McCarthy due to his left wing sympathies and political writings.

Upon receipt of the invitation to the White House symposium, after resolving the subsequent disgust, Hamill initiated a massive e-mail campaign asking friends for poetry and statements protesting the impending military strike. The response was overwhelming, with over 2,000 responses in the first few days of the campaign. Hamill’s e-mail read as follows: “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.” Poets and artists across the nation and around the world submitted their expressions of conscience.

Once it became clear to the First Lady that her celebration of the American Voice was not going to turn out as she’d hoped, the event of February 12 was postponed indefinitely. In a statement issued by Mrs. Bush’s press secretary, Noelia Rodriguez, the White House expressed the following: “While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum.”

In response, a massive mobilization of poets across the nation was called via Hamill’s campaign. February 12, 2003 would in fact be a day for “Poets Against the War”, and readings would be staged wherever there were venues to read, voices to speak and ears to hear.

The artistic and literary community of UMass Boston represented accordingly with an event, “Poets Against the War”, held in the Wheatley Student Lounge, 4th Floor at 1:30pm this past Wednesday. A relatively small contingency of students and teachers gathered for the reading, led by members of the English Department. The mood was somber as poets, writers, and performers from the University took the podium and voiced their concerns, fears, and hopes in regard to an impending global conflict.

David Connolly, a Vietnam veteran, read an original piece. Faculty member Lloyd Schwartz read and discussed how New York City was denying people’s right to march. Natalia Cooper read an original piece explaining her personal opposition to the war.

All across the nation on February 12, similar events sprung up as the nation begun listening to itself in an attempt to make sense of the bigger picture. Dickinson, Whitman and Hughes would probably be smiling at the notion of a unified front against an ambiguous situation that will affect the lives of every sentient being on this planet.

For further reference and information, visit Hamill’s site at www.poetsagainstthewar.org.