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Wednesday
May112011

Obamas Host an Evening of Poetry at the White House

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Without mention of the rapper Common or the controversy surrounding his appearance, President Obama welcomed the audience to the White House poetry night, revealing that he too considers himself a poet.

"In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually submitted a couple of poems to my college literary magazine.  And you'll be pleased to know that I will not be reading them, tonight," he joked from the East Room of the White House Wednesday evening.

Speaking of the influence that poets have on American culture, President Obama noted their important role in telling our American story.  He made reference to Francis Scott Key penning the poem after the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that would later become the U.S. national anthem.

The president declared that the night was a celebration, hearing from the nation’s greatest and newest performers, and that a poem should affect people on a level that "cannot be explained in words," or else it hasn't done its job.

Lonnie Rashid Lynn, the hip-hop artist known as Common, also performed Wednesday evening at the White House, despite backlash from conservatives who have criticized his invitation.  While he's considered more mainstream than many rappers, Common's lyrics have at times disparaged police and former President Bush. 

At Wednesday night's event, Common recited lyrics to a rap song in poem form, which tipped his hat to the nation's first African-American president and started and ended with the words of Martin Luther King playing over the room's sound system.

“Thank you and God Bless,” Common said at the end of his performance without making any references to the controversy surrounding his appearance.  “I appreciate being here.”

Others in attendance Wednesday include poet Rita Dove, who made history decades ago when named the official poet laureate of the U.S., and actor/comedian Steve Martin, who is also a novelist and playwright.

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