Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Courageous Open Letter to Laura Bush
Date: Wed, 16 May 2007 19:24:14 -0400

There is hope for America so long as there are Sharon Olds in this land
to speak out to those who have brought world condemnation upon us.
In a culture like ours, one sometimes forgets the power of a poet's
words...Here is an open letter from the poet, Sharon Olds, to Laura Bush
declining the invitation to read and speak at the National Book
Critics Circle Award in Washington, DC. Sharon Olds
is one of most widely read and critically acclaimed
poets living in America today.

Read to the end of the letter to experience her
restrained, chilling, eloquence:

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. And the
concept of a community of readers and writers has
long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative
writing in the graduate school of a major university,
I have had the chance to be a part of some
magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our
students have become teachers.

Over the years, they have taught in a variety of
settings: a women's prison, several New York City
public high schools, an oncology ward for children.
Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for
the severely physically challenged, has been running
now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting
friendships between young MFA candidates and their
students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in
their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and
almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big
plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new
poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and
essentialness of writing. When you have held
up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who
is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for
the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B,
then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of
the first word of the first line of the poem she has
been composing in her head all week, and she lifts
her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you
feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for
creation, self-expression, accuracy,
honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which
celebrates the value of each person's unique story
and song.

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

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I
would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady
who represents the Administration that unleashed this
war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent
of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people
to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country
now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime
of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean
linens at your table, the shining knives and the
flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.


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