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First Lady Laura Bush Cancels Poetry Gathering Fearing Anti-War Poems: Democracy Now! Hosts Its Own Poetry Slam with Def Poetry Jam Stars Staceyann Chin, Suheir Hammad and Steve Colman

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First Lady Laura Bush has canceled a White House symposium on poetry because she feared the invited poets would recite poetry against war.

Laura Bush defended her actions citing her freedom of speech.

A spokesperson for the First Lady said, “While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she too has opinions and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum.”

Poets around the world have cried foul. Two former U.S. poets laureate Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove have criticized the cancellation.

The controversy started when invited poet Sam Hamill asked friends to send him antiwar poems for the symposium. To date he has received 3,600 responses.

The symposium was to celebrate the work of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman, three celebrated American poets who likely would have added anti-war voices of their own if they were still with us.

Take Whitman for example. Not exactly Laura Bush’s type of poet. He was gay. He was a radical. He was an environmentalist. He once wrote that the presidency and other offices were “bought, sold, electioneered for, prostituted, and filled with prostitutes.”

In response to the symposium’s cancellation, a National Day of Poetry Against the War has been called for February 12.

Today Democracy Now is going to hold its own poetry special. We are joined in our studio by some of the most acclaimed young poets in the country from the Broadway hit “Def Poetry Jam.” The show features Staceyann Chin, Poetri, Georgia Me, Beau Sia, Steve Colman, Mayda del Valle, Lemon, Suheir Hammad, and Black Ice.

They tackle issues of racism, multiculturalism, music, love and war.

We will let their work speak for itself.


  • Steve Colman, a member of the 1998 national-champion Nuyorican Poet’s Café (NYC) Slam team. He was also the winner of the 1999 Fresh Poet of the Year prize from the Nuyorican Poets Café. His television appearances included winning the first-ever BET soundstage Slam and being profiled by CNN’s Entertainment Weekly, which proclaimed him “one of the best slam poets in the country.”
  • Staceyann Chin, a resident of New York City and a Jamaican National, she has been a practicing poet since 1998. From the rousing cheers of the Nuyorican Poets’ Café to one-woman shows off-Broadway, to poetry workshops in Denmark and London.
  • Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American from Brooklyn. Suheir’s appearance on the debut episode of HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, hosted by rapper Mos Def, merited generous media praise. She is the author of “Born Palestinian, Born Black.” Her poetry has been featured on BBC World Service and National Public Radio and she has also appeared at Rutgers University, Yale University, Harvard University, the Globe Theatre (London) and Paradiso (Amsterdam).

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