So What Actually Happened at the White House Poetry Night?

Somehow the nation survived Common's performance

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On Wednesday, the White House held an event in celebration of poetry. The guests included Rita Dove and Billy Collins, former U.S. poets laureate; Aimee Mann, wildly depressing singer-songwriter; Jill Scott, somewhat less depressing singer-songwriter; Steve Martin, actor, comedian, and jerk; and Common, noted anarchist who has personally killed over 4,000 cops.

Just kidding! Common is a Grammy-winning rapper and actor, and he's been profiled everywhere from NPR to Fox News as a cerebral hip-hop artist with a positive message. But earlier this week, conservatives found a video of a 2007 spoken-word performance where Common talked about "burning" President Bush and threatening cops with guns, and then it was off to the races: Common would destroy America, why is President Obama hosting "a thug" at the White House (wording courtesy of Karl Rove), et cetera. Sarah Palin was moved to say, "The judgment, it's just so lacking of class and decency and all that's good about America with an invite like this."

Anyway, it's the morning after Common performed at the White House, and you'll notice the union didn't dissolve. Common seems to have been at pains not to stir up any more ire: his nearly a cappella rap included lyrics like, "It's hard to see blessings in a violent culture / Face against weapons, sirens, holsters / That ain't the way that Langston Hughes wrote us." He also used sound clips from Dr. Martin Luther King. According to ABC News, no one mentioned the kerfuffle that had kicked up over the last 48 hours. At the evening's conclusion, President Obama brought all the performers back to the stage and thanked them all by name. "Before exiting the stage," Sunlen Miller reports, "Obama gave Common a big hug."

Aside from Common's performance, not much of note seems to have happened at the event. (New York's item, for example, doesn't even mention the other performers, and as of this writing, Gawker only has a story about Jon Stewart's reaction to the controversy, and not the event itself.) It seems Aimee Mann played "Save Me," while Steve Martin strummed the banjo with his bluegrass group, the Steep Canyon Rangers. Barack Obama made a self-deprecating joke about his own college poetry. And Michelle Obama wore "a turquoise, empire-waisted dress... with a stack of bangles," The Huffington Post reports.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.