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.
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: