Obama Hosts White House Poetry Night
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A virtual fence may be costly, but words at least come cheap. And last night President Obama tried to bring some poetry to the White House. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: It was, President Obama said, a night to celebrate the power of words and music to help us appreciate beauty, and also to understand pain.
President BARACK OBAMA: That is what these artists do. They express the joys and hardships of life and remind us how much all of us have in common.
HORSLEY: Michelle Obama said she's been wanting to host a night like this for a long time, and it won't be the last, she promised. The First Lady said she's committed to making the White House a place where all kinds of voices can be heard.
Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA (First Lady): For it is one thing for people to tell their stories in their own spaces, and quite another for those stories to be welcomed in this space.
(Soundbite of music)
HORSLEY: The East Room was made over into a jazz lounge for the evening and a couple of hundred students from local colleges gathered around to enjoy the show.
Ms. MAYDA DEL VALLE (Poet): Abuela, you bearer of children, you seer of spirits, you are truly miraculous.
HORSLEY: Chicago-born Broadway-burnished poet Mayda Del Valle helped kick off the performance with a poem for grandmothers.
Ms. DEL VALLE: You are the whispers of (unintelligible) and white tablecloths. Your melody is captured in the spilled candle wax of my skin. My tongue's a broken needle scratching through the grooves of a lost wisdom trying to find a faith that beats like yours. What secrets do your bones hold?
HORSLEY: From death-jam poetry to Shakespeare, the White House lineup offered something for everyone. James Earl Jones considered a selection from "Green Eggs and Ham" but decided to stick with "Othello" instead.
Mr. JAMES EARL JONES (Actor): What drugs, what charms, what conjuration and what mighty magic for such proceeding I am charged will all…
HORSLEY: Husband and wife writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman summed up the message of the evening, somewhat sheepishly, as the pen is indeed mightier than the sword and takes just as much practice to use wisely.
Ms. AYELET WALDMAN (Writer): To harness the power of language you have to be able to put yourself in the position of the person you're speaking to, to imagine what they're thinking, what they're feeling. That's hard.
Mr. MICHEAL CHABON (Writer): That's the hardest thing in the world, to stand outside yourself.
HORSLEY: Words the president might remember today when he meets with lawmakers whose agenda doesn't always rhyme with his own.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
(Soundbite of music and applause)
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