FW: Sharon Olds' letter to Laura Bush

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. Feel free to forward it along if you feel more
people may want to read it.

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 hat 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.