Letter from Sharon Olds, Poet, to Laura Bush
(as sent to me from M.E. McKeen)
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.
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.
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 oflife 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.