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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 09:51 GMT
Anti-war poets find their voice
The White House on Sunday
An event at the White House was postponed
A group of US poets whose White House event was postponed after fears it would become a "political forum" held their own gathering on Sunday night.

About 600 people gathered at a church in Manchester, Vermont, in the north-eastern United States, for the event, entitled A Poetry Reading in Honour of the Right of Protest as a Patriotic and Historical Tradition.

The poets were due to perform at the White House in an event organised by First Lady Laura Bush.

Why be afraid of us, Mrs Bush? You're married to a scarier fellow

Julia Alvarez
But it was "indefinitely postponed" because of fears it would become a protest against any war in Iraq.

A White House spokesman said that although George Bush's wife "respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions", she felt it "would be inappropriate to turn the literary event into a political forum".

One of the leaders of the event, Jay Parini, said he was disgusted when the White House put it on ice.

"For poets to remain silent at a time of national crisis is unconscionable," he said.

"Poets from the time of ancient Athens have raised voices in protest."

'Hope-making'

Fellow poet Julia Alvarez added: "Why be afraid of us, Mrs Bush? You're married to a scarier fellow."

The line-up included Pulitzer Prize winner Galway Kinnell and Grace Paley, who is about to become Vermont's poet laureate.

Paley said she took heart from the protests against the war mounted across the world over the weekend, which included 200,000 people in New York and 150,000 in San Francisco.

George and Laura Bush
Laura Bush did not want "a politcal forum"
"What happened in the last few days has really been so encouraging, so hope-making," she told the audience.

"And I really feel that the rise of the poets had a lot to do with it happening everywhere in the world."

Galway Kinnell, who had been invited to the original White House event but declined, read his own work and from the work of Walt Whitman.

Kinnell said Whitman's bitterness was not because he was a bitter person or because he was anti-American or unpatriotic.

"It was because he loved America so much that he was continually disappointed."

National Book Award winner Ruth Stone read a poem called Lesson, about one of her former students at the University of Wisconsin who was jailed after protesting against the Vietnam War.

Organisers said the Bushes had been invited to the event, but did not respond.


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