The First Readings:
An Evening of American Poetry at the White House

On April 22, 1998, President and Mrs. Clinton hosted U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and the two past poets laureate Robert Hass and Rita Dove at the White House to celebrate America's rich heritage of poetry.

"We are here on this Millenial Evening to celebrate the timeless power of poetry and poets as our American memory, our purveyor of insight, our eyes and ears who silence the white noise around us and express the very heart of what connects, plagues and makes us fully human," said First Lady Hillary Clinton in her welcome to the poets gathered in the White House East Room for the historical event.

Pinsky, Haas and Dove read aloud works from great Amerian poets, including: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edward Arlington Robinson, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens. "We are here to honor our ancestors in poetry," said Pinsky, "and to imagine ways that we can give the gift they gave to us to our children."

President Clinton read works by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Octavio Paz. Also, four Americans - a minister, a war veteran, a teacher and a junior-high school student - read beloved poems aloud.

Earlier that day the First Lady accompanied Pinsky, Haas and Dove to a poetry slam at E. Hayden Johnson Junior High School in southeast D.C. Students faced off with original poems that were judged "Olympic-style" by teachers and peers.