Politics

‘Burn a Bush’? Michelle Obama invites rapper Common to a poetry reading

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Here’s an opportunity to relive your high-school poetry classes.

First Lady Michelle Obama has scheduled a poetry evening for Wednesday, and she’s invited several poets, including a successful Chicago poet and rapper, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., AKA “Common.” However, Lynn is quite controversial, in part because his poetry includes threats to shoot police and at least one passage calling for the “burn[ing]” of then-President George W. Bush.

Back in 2003, First Lady Laura Bush held a poetry evening, and she invited several poets to reprise the work of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Although none of those poets had urged violence against a president, Bush canceled the event after left-of-center poets protested and threatened to disrupt the event.

Here’s a sample of Dickinson’s work that could have been presented at Bush’s event:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

Here’s a sample of Common’s work, transcribed from a 2007 video with 837,613 viewers on YouTube. Students, please compare and contrast the two poems. You’ll get extra credit for counting the death threats. There is no extra credit for identifying spelling errors. By the way, ‘Uzi’ is slang for a compact machine gun:

A Letter to the Law

Dem boy wanna talk… [indistinguishable]

Whatcha gon do if ya got one gun?

I sing a song for the hero unsung

with faces on the mural of the revolution

No looking back cos’ in back is what’s done

Tell the preacher, God got more than one son

Tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton

I walk like a warrior,

from them I won’t run

On the streets, they try to beat us like a drum

In Cincinnati, another brother hung

A guinea won’t see the sun

with his family stung

They want us to hold justice

but you handed me none

The same they did to Kobe and Michael Jackson

make them the main attraction

Turn around and attack them

Black gem in the rough

You’re rugged enough

Use your mind and nine-power, get the government touch

Them boys chat-chat on how him pop gun

I got the black strap to make the cops run

They watching me, I’m watching them

Them dick boys got a lock of cock in them

My people on the block got a lot of pok* in them

and when we roll together

we be rocking them to sleep

No time for that, because there’s things to be done

Stay true to what I do so the youth dream come

from project building

Seeing a fiend being hung

With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?

Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button

Killing over oil and grease

no weapons of destruction

How can we follow a leader when this a corrupt one

The government’s a g-unit and they might buck young black people

Black people In the urban area one

I hold up a peace sign, but I carry a gun.

Peace, ya’ll.”

The First Lady’s office did not return a call from TheDC.

*Commenter notes this may be “Pac,” as in Tupac Shakur

See the video: