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Obama hails White House poetry night with prose

President Obama's remarks on poetry night, as provided by the White House

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Welcome to the White House.  I am going to be brief, because on a night like tonight, my job is to get out of the way and let the professionals do their job.

I do want to start by thanking our extraordinary performers for taking time out of their busy schedules to be with us.  I also want to recognize the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for putting on this event and for everything they do to support the arts. (Applause.)  Michelle Obama greets poetry night at White House 5-11-11

The power of poetry is that everybody experiences it differently. There are no rules for what makes a great poem.

Understanding it isn’t just about metaphor or meter. Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us, that challenges us and that teaches us something about ourselves and the world that we live in.

As Rita Dove says, “If [poetry] doesn’t affect you on some level that cannot be explained in words, then the poem hasn’t done its job.” Also known as, it don’t mean a thing if -- (laughter) -- it ain’t got that swing. That’s a little ad-lib there. (Laughter.) 

For thousands of years, people have been drawn to poetry in a very personal way -– including me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually submitted a couple of poems to my college literary magazine, and you will be pleased to know that I will not be reading them tonight. (Laughter.) 

But as a nation built on freedom of expression, poets have always played an important role in telling our American story.

It was after the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would become our National Anthem. 

The Statue of Liberty has always welcomed the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Soldiers going off to fight in World War II were giving -- given books of poetry for comfort and inspiration. And whenever our nation has faced a great tragedy -– whether it was the loss of a civil rights leader, the crew of a space shuttle, or the thousands of Americans that were lost on a clear September day -– we have turned to poetry when we can’t find quite the right words to express what we’re feeling.

So tonight we continue that tradition by hearing from some of our greatest -– as well as some of our newest -– poets. Billy Collins, who is here with us, calls poetry “the oldest form of travel writing,” because it takes us to places we can only imagine.  So in that spirit, I’d like everyone to sit back, or sit on the edge of your seats, and enjoy the journey.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)    ####

Photo: Michelle Obama greets the poetry evening crowd. Credit: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images

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Obama is an idiot for a thug to the white house.
This one term community organizer just does not get it.

This proves the "LOW CLASS" we have living in our WH. Unbelievable that they would invite this ANIMAL into OUR WH. This proves what Chicago scumbags they are.

The Light

The Iris opens wide

And the light enters the mind

Apocalypse comes.....

It is interesting to me that so many people appear to be so very outraged about Lonnie Lynn, Jr. (known by his stage moniker "Common") being invited to participate in this celebration of poetry at the White House. Mr. Lynn attended college on a scholarship (not too dumb, huh?) for a couple of years to study Business Administration before leaving school to pursue a career in the music business. He then parlayed his success "on the mike" into a thriving movie career (Smoking Aces, American Gangster, Just Wright, etc.). Not too bad for a "thug", huh? Not only that, he is the son of an American educator (his mom has a doctorate)! I wonder has anyone ever listened to an entire song from this lyrical genius...or have they only heard the 'soundbytes' that a few politically charged and real-life ignorant "talking heads" wish for them to hear. It is time for people to wake up; think before speaking and examine an accusation thoroughly prior to running with whatever bone is tossed their way. In the words of Common, " You have come so far, you've got so far to go."

Had I known it was poetry night at the White House, I would have submitted my poem "Run For Office."

Here it is:
Copyright 1995, Robert Barrows (All rights reserved)

Out of work? Need a job? Run for office!
Big debts, lots of sex? Run For Office!
Need prestige? Run for office!
Get elected! Be respected!
Even get yourself protected!

Give unto Caesar that which is his!
Get me Redford! Get me Liz!
I'm going to make it really big...
I'm going to run for office!

All the money you need...
The pleasures of power and greed...
Got to start planting the seed...
I'm going to run for office!

Get elected! Get respected!
Got to get myself selected!
My future in bliss! I'll promise you that...
I'll promise you this!
...With this big warm smile, hey, I can't miss!

There's nothing to lose, and I could actually win!
A couple of lies, hey, that's not like a sin?
Which race is open? I'm ready to go!
I'll toss my hat in!
Here comes the dough!

Where do I stand? It doesn't matter...
I'm shaking everyone's hand!

Oh what a feeling! I'm on command!
Hey, nice to meet you!
I'm running for office!
Your goals are my goals! Vote for me!
I'm your man!

What are my plans?
I'll show you when I get in office!

There is also a song version of it and you can hear a free clip of it on my website at
Click on the Music section.


Robert Barrows
R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations
Burlingame, California

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue
Republicans are Red, Democrats are Blue
Roses have Thorns
Violets are True.

Interesting and highly intelligent comments here. Full of clever wording like "idiot", "thug", "low class", "animal", "scumbag". I am sure you all were top of your composition classes back in college.

I think Obama scares the feeble minded folks, the believers in things that don't exist, the masses that cling to their limited horizons that stops less than an arm length in front of their noses. I presume they don't understand him. A man who is intelligent and humerous, compassionate, self mocking and rhetorically versed. A man who is, in fact, capable of thinking. On top of all he is friendly, most of the time but also fully capable of rather unpleasant decisions. Terrible, isn't it!? But he is not Jesus and miracles only exist in old book and fanciful dreams. Even Obama cannot change reality. Not his fault, I would say. The heap of dung that he inherited has to be removed one shovel at a time.

An impromptu haiku-like werse:

Run for office ! who cares?
Just find a birth-certificate anywhere!
- The bird singing on the lawn

An impromptu haiku-like werse:

Run for office ! who cares?
Just find a birth-certificate anywhere!
- The bird singing on the lawn


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
President Obama
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