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White House Event Celebrates the Spoken Word

May 14, 2009 at 6:50 PM EST
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The Obamas hosted a "Poetry Jam" Tuesday night at the White House. Rising stars in the arts world as well as established poets, writers, and musicians were invited. Following is an excerpt of the evening, with footage courtesy HBO.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, there was a poetry jam at the White House this week. President and Mrs. Obama invited both accomplished and up-and-coming performers and writers to the East Room for a celebration of the spoken word.

Here’s a sample from a poem by Joshua Brandon Bennett of New York. It is an ode to his deaf sister.

JOSHUA BRANDON BENNETT, Poet: Tamara has never listened to hip-hop, never danced to the rhythm of rain drops or fallen asleep to a chorus of chirping crickets. She has been deaf for as long as I’ve been alive. And ever since the day I first turned five, my father has said, “Joshua, nothing is wrong with Tamara. God just makes some people different.”

And at that moment, those nine letters felt like hammers swung gracefully by unholy hands to shatter my stained-glass innocence into shards that can never be pieced back together or do anything more than suffer the silence between my sister and I.

I waited with patient, numberless years anticipating the second her ears would open like lotuses and allow my sunlight sentences to seep into her insides, make her remember all those conversations we must have had in heaven.

There’s even a moment sister, for family, for goodbye, I will see you again, someday, remember the face of your little brother.

It is only now I see that I was never willing to put in the extra effort to love her properly. So as the only person in my family who is not fluent in sign language, I’ve decided to take this time to apologize.

Tamara, I am sorry for my silence. But true love knows no frequency, and so I will use these hands to speak for you, that can never be contained from the boundaries of sound waves, out shouts at the top of my fingertips as they relay messages directly to your soul.

I know that there is no poem that can make up for all the time we have lost, so, please, if you can, just listen.

Thank you.