Friday, December 02, 2005

guess who's not coming to dinner

i thought this letter was very touching in many ways...

[Letter from Sharon Olds refusing to participate in the
National Book Critics Circle Award in Washington, DC., after
invitation from Laura Bush. This was circulated to his
colleagues in the English Department by Prof. Don Daikin,
Professor of English at Miami University Ohio - mod.]

Subject: Letter from Sharon Olds to Laura Bush

Dear Colleagues,

I think you will interested in reading the open letter from
the poet Sharon Olds to Laura Bush declining an invitation to
read and speak at the National Book Critics Circle Award in
Washington, DC. As you know, 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.

Don
======

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 Administration.

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.

Sincerely,

SHARON OLDS

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