WASHINGTON, May 11 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama celebrated poetry Wednesday with the president citing poetry's role in "telling our American story."
The White House event provoked controversy among conservatives because rapper-actor Common was among the poets invited to participate. Objections arise from a 2007 YouTube video of Common in which he says, among other things, "tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton," CBS News reported.
The Common story was flagged Daily Caller story and featured on conservative news aggregator Drudge Report with the headline "First Lady to host rapper who talks of killing cops, burning Bush," and television's "Fox Nation" asked, "Michelle Obama Hosting Vile Rapper at White House?"
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Fox commentator and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, linked to the article on her Twitter page, adding "Oh lovely, White House."
However, liberal media monitor Media Matters reported a FoxNews.com reporter told the rapper in October that "your music is very positive."
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., was a supporter of Obama in 2008. And the controversy generated by his invitation to the White House hasn't fazed him.
"So apparently Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me," he tweeted Tuesday.
Speaking at the celebration, the president said "the power of poetry is that everybody experiences it differently."
"But as a nation built on freedom of expression, poets have always played an important role in telling our American story," he said.
"It was after the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would become our national anthem. The Statue of Liberty has always welcomed the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free.' Soldiers going off to fight in World War II were giving -- given books of poetry for comfort and inspiration. And whenever our nation has faced a great tragedy -- whether it was the loss of a civil rights leader, the crew of a space shuttle, or the thousands of Americans that were lost on a clear September day -- we have turned to poetry when we can't find quite the right words to express what we're feeling."
Other participants at the celebration of American poetry and prose include Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles, Aimee Mann and Jill Scott.
ABC News said despite his controversial video, Common is mainstream in many ways, noting his two Grammy wins, acting turns in "American Gangster," "Terminator Salvation" and "Date Night," his belief in prayer, his music featured in ad campaigns for major products -- including the Lincoln Navigator and BlackBerry -- and his avoiding the violence he witnessed growing up in Chicago.
"I've never killed anybody physically," Common said in a 2007 interview with Esquire magazine, "maybe on the mic I have."