Last night, the East Room of the White House—where Union soldiers were housed briefly during the Civil War—was transformed into something else historic: a stage for the White House’s first poetry jam. James Earl Jones recited passages from Othello to a crowd that included everyone from George Stephanopolous to Spike Lee. Hawaiian poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio served up a poem about her identity, and Mayda del Valle, a poet from Chicago, read a work about her roots. This is the latest in a long line of cultural events the Obamas have staged in the White House—everything from a bagpipe band to Fergie, the singer for the Black Eyed Peas. “We’re here to celebrate the power of words and music to help us appreciate beauty and also to understand pain,” the President told the crowd.