Common Performs at the Obamas' White House Poetry Event

President makes no mention of the controversy over the rapper's participation.

ByABC News
May 11, 2011, 9:53 PM

May 11, 2011 — -- Without mention of controversy surrounding the rapper Common's participation, President Obama welcomed an audience to the White House's "Evening of Poetry" Wednesday night, revealing that he, too, considers himself a poet.

"I have actually submitted a couple poems to my college literary magazine and you will be pleased to know what that I will not be reading them," President Obama joked from the East Room of the White House this evening.

The president spoke about the emotion of poetry.

"The power of poetry is everybody experiences it differently. There are no rules on what makes a great poem," Obama said. "Instead, a great poem is one that resonates with us and challenges us and teaches us something about ourselves."

Some critics of the participation in the White House event by Common were upset that the rapper and actor -- who has recently appeared in a romantic comedy opposite Queen Latifa and contributed to a Jonas Brothers song -- has previously slammed former President George W. Bush in his poetry.

Common's rhyme -- "Burn a Bush 'cause for peace he no push no button" -- is from his poem "Letter to the Law," which he recited on a 2007 episode of HBO's "Def Poetry." It led some pundits to ask how appropriate it was for the White House to host the "vile" and "quite controversial" rapper.

During an appearance on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" Wednesday night Sarah Palin sounded off about Common's White House invitation.

"The judgment is just so lacking of class and decency and all that's good about America with an invite like this," Palin said. "They're just inviting someone like me or someone else to ask, 'C'mon Barack Obama who are you palling around with now?'"

Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush also responded to the controversy on the the radio program "The Sean Hannity Show" on Tuesday.

"Yes, let's invite a misogynist to the White House, a guy who's called … for killing the former president of the United States George W. Bush," Rove complained.

"This guy is a thug," Rove said. "And why they are inviting him to poetry night at the White House speaks volumes about President Obama and this White House staff. Who is asleep at the vetting desk?"

In response to criticism of his lyrics that deal with violence against and frustration with police officers, Common posted a message on his Facebook page: "Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I respect that. The one thing that shouldn't be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day. Peace yall!"

Later on Wednesday he added another note to his Facebook page: "I'm super geeked about performing at the white house tonight. I gotta bring it!"

The White House earlier partly explained why an invitation was extended to Common, whose given name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.

"While the president doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "One of the things the president appreciates is the work Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the streets."

During Wednesday's celebration, Common recited lyrics to a rap song in poem form, which tipped his hat to the nation's first African American president and started and ended with words of Martin Luther King playing over the loud speaker.

Read Common's Poem at the "Evening of Poetry"

"Thank you and God bless," Common said at the end of his poem, without referring to the controversy. "I appreciate being here."

After Steve Martin's band played following Common's performance, President Obama stood up, clapping, and then brought everyone back onstage, thanking all of the performers by name.

Before exiting the stage, Obama gave Common a big hug.