Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poetry at the Inauguration, with Apologies


In yesterday's post, I did an injustice to Elizabeth Alexander by posting the news transcript of her presidential-inauguration poem without its proper line breaks. Here is the poem typed out correctly. The line breaks demonstrate how eloquent the poem really is, and if you read it in prose (as in the transcript), much of the impact of the poem, and its beauty, is lost. In fact, I would add that the transcript damages the poem, and I added to that damage by posting the transcript yesterday. Read the poem below in its proper form. (I'm also including again the YouTube video of Alexander's performance so you can compare the poem as written with the poem as spoken by the poet.)

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander
A Poem for Barack Obama's
Presidential Inauguration
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Text from the Academy of American Poets website




My sincerest apologies to you, Professor Alexander, for adding to the brouhaha about your poem. Having the poem in its proper form really enhances the experience of hearing it, and your performance is quite remarkable, Elizabeth (if I may), because you are clearly voicing (and voicing clearly) the plain speaking that both you and President Obama hold so dear. Despite what unfriendly commenters on various blogs and news venues have been saying about the poem, it is clear to me you are working to circumvent the esoteric qualities that many people not accustomed to verse point to in American poetry overall, and your poem's plain and clear speech is the source of its eloquence and beauty (as more friendly commenters have also emphasized). Congratulations on a lovely, apt poem. And thank you for striving to make poetry a part of everyday life in the entire world. Brava!

I am particularly moved by the reference to the "many [who] have died for this day." I would imagine that some people, perhaps many people, read this as a reference to African Americans and other people of color. I submit however that, although that understanding is of course important to acknowledge, this refers ultimately to all of us, all Americans who have died for and worked for freedom for everyone. The swearing-in of our first African American president is not a victory only for black people; it is a victory for all Americans, in fact all people across the world. Thank you, Elizabeth Alexander; thank you for this crucial lesson and this important poem.

1 comment:

lady gaga halloween costume said...

I love coming to this site and reading all the great content.
lady gaga halloween costume ideas

13th floor elevators (1) 3d (1) 9/11 (3) a schneider (1) abecedarian (6) acrostic (2) adelaide crapsey (1) african american (1) aids (1) al robles (2) alberta turner (1) alex esclamado (1) alexander chen (1) alexandra bissell (1) alexandrines (1) alliteration (3) alphabet (1) alphabet poem (2) altered books (1) altered pages (2) altered reality magazine (1) amanda blue gotera (6) amelia blue gotera (3) american gothic (1) amok (1) amy lowell (1) anacreon (1) anacreontics (1) anaphora (1) andrea boltwood (19) andrew davidson (1) andrew marvell (1) andrew oldham (1) angelina jolie (1) angels (1) animation (1) anna montgomery (3) anne reynolds (1) annie e. existence (1) annie finch (1) anny ballardini (1) anti- (1) antonio taguba (2) aprille (1) art (7) arturo islas (1) ash wednesday (1) asian american (4) assonance (2) astronomy (2) aswang (11) aswang wars (1) atlanta rhythm section (1) balato (1) ballad (1) barack obama (7) barbara jane reyes (1) barry a. morris (1) bass (2) bataan (5) becca andrea (1) beetle (2) belinda subraman (2) beowulf (1) best american poetry (1) bible (1) bill clinton (1) billy collins (2) blank verse (4) bob boynton (1) body farm (1) bolo (1) bongbong marcos (3) bop (1) brian brodeur (2) brian garrison (1) bruce johnson (1) bruce niedt (2) buddah moskowitz (2) burns stanza (1) callaloo (1) candida fajardo gotera (5) cardinal sin (1) carlos bulosan (1) carlos santana (1) carmina figurata (2) carolina matsumura gotera (1) caroline klocksiem (1) carrie arizona (3) carrieola (3) carriezona (1) catherine childress pritchard (1) catherine pritchard childress (36) catullus (1) cebu (1) cecilia manguerra brainard (1) cedar falls (6) cedar falls public library (1) charles a hogan (2) chess (1) childhood (1) children's poetry (1) China (1) chorus of glories (1) chris durietz (1) christmas (2) chuck pahlaniuk (1) cinquain (1) civil rights (1) clarice (1) classics iv (1) cleave hay(na)ku (2) clerihews (3) cliché (1) computers (1) concreteness (1) consonance (5) cory aquino (2) couplet (5) couplet quatrains (1) crab (1) craft (5) creative nonfiction (1) crewrt-l (1) crucifixion (1) curtal sonnet (7) dactyls (2) daily palette (1) damián ortega (1) danielle filas (1) dante (4) dashiki (1) david foster wallace (1) david kopaska-merkel (1) david wojahn (1) de jackson (2) denise duhamel (1) deviantART (2) dick powell (1) diction (1) didactic cinquain (1) dinosaur (2) disaster relief (1) divine comedy (1) dodecasyllables (1) doggerel (2) doggie diner (1) don johnson (1) donald trump (3) dr who (3) dr. seuss (1) draft (2) dragon (1) dragonfly (17) dreams & nightmares (1) drug addiction (1) drums (1) dusty springfield (1) e e cummings (1) e-book (1) earth day (1) ebay (2) ecopoetry (1) ed hill (1) edgar allan poe (2) edgar rice burroughs (1) editing (1) eileen tabios (7) ekphrasis (2) ekphrastic review (1) election (2) elegy (1) elevenie (1) elizabeth alexander (2) elizabeth bishop (2) elvis presley (1) emily dickinson (5) emma trelles (1) end-stop (3) english sonnet (1) englyn milwer (1) enita meadows (1) enjambment (5) enola gay (1) environment (1) erasure poetry (9) erin mcreynolds (4) ernest lawrence thayer (1) exxon valdez oil spill (1) f. j. bergman (1) f. scott fitzgerald (1) facebook (3) family (4) fantasy (1) fashion (1) ferdinand magellan (1) ferdinand marcos (5) fib (1) fiction (3) fiera lingue (1) fighting kite (4) filipino (language) (1) filipino americans (6) filipino poetry (1) filipino veterans equity (3) filipinos (5) film (3) final thursday reading series (2) flannery o'connor (3) flute (1) fortune cookie (1) found poem (1) found poetry (6) found poetry review (2) fourteeners (1) frank frazetta (1) fred unwin (1) free verse (1) fructuosa gotera (1) fyodor dostoevsky (1) gabriel garcía márquez (1) gambling (1) garrett hongo (1) gary kelley (1) gawain (1) genre (1) george w. bush (1) gerard manley hopkins (8) ghazal (2) ghost wars (5) ghosts of a low moon (1) gogol bordello (1) golden shovel (3) goodreads (1) google (1) gotera (1) grace kelly (1) grant tracey (1) grant wood (1) greek mythology (1) gregory k pincus (1) griffin lit (1) grimm (1) grinnell college (2) growing up (1) growing up filipino (2) guest blogger (1) guillaume appolinaire (1) guitar (9) gulf war (1) gustave doré (3) guy de maupassant (1) gwendolyn brooks (2) gypsy art show (1) gypsy punk (1) hades (1) haiku (18) haiku sonnet (3) hart crane (1) hawak kamay (1) hay(na)ku (18) hay(na)ku sonnet (8) header (1) hearst center for the arts (2) heirloom (1) herman melville (1) hey joe (1) hiroshima (1) hiv here & now (1) homer (1) how a poem happens (2) humboldt state university (1) humor (1) hybrid sonnet (1) iain m. banks (1) iamb (1) iambic pentameter (1) ian parks (1) ibanez (1) imagery (1) imelda marcos (4) immigrants (1) imogen heap (1) indiana university (1) inigo online magazine (1) ink! (1) insect (2) insects (1) international hotel (1) interview (3) introduction (2) iowa (2) iran (1) iran-iraq war (1) irving levinson (1) italian bicycle (1) italian sonnet (2) ivania velez (2) j. d. schraffenberger (4) j. i. kleinberg (3) j. k. rowling (1) jack horner (2) jack kerouac (1) jack p nantell (1) james brown (1) james gorman (2) jan d. hodges (1) japan (1) jasmine dreame wagner (1) jeanette winterson (1) jedediah dougherty (1) jedediah kurth (31) jennifer bullis (1) jesse graves (1) jessica hagedorn (1) jessica mchugh (2) jim daniels (1) jim hall (1) jim hiduke (1) jim o'loughlin (1) jim simmerman (1) jimi hendrix (3) jimmy fallon (1) joan osborne (1) joe mcnally (1) john barth (1) john charles lawrence (2) john clare (1) john donne (1) john mccain (1) john welsh iii (2) joseph solo (1) josh hamzehee (1) joyce kilmer (1) justine wagner (1) kampilan (1) kathleen ann lawrence (1) kathy reichs (1) kay ryan (1) keith welsh (1) kelly cherry (1) kelly christiansen (1) kenning (1) kennings poem (3) killjoy (1) kim groninga (1) king arthur (1) king tut (1) kumadre (1) kumpadre (1) kurt vonnegut (1) kyell gold (1) landays (1) lapu-lapu (1) lapwing publications (1) laurie kolp (2) les paul (1) leslie kebschull (1) lester smith (1) library (1) library of congress (2) limerick (2) linda parsons marion (1) linda sue grimes (2) lineation (5) linked haiku (3) list poem (1) little brown brother (1) little free libraries (3) lorette c. luzajic (1) lost (tv) (1) louise glück (1) luis buñuel (1) lune (2) lydia lunch (1) machismo (1) magazines (1) mah jong (1) man ray (1) manananggal (2) manong (3) margaret atwood (1) maria fleuette deguzman (1) marianne moore (1) marilyn cavicchia (1) marilyn hacker (1) mark jarman (1) marriage (1) martin avila gotera (16) martin luther king jr. (1) marty gotera (5) marty mcgoey (1) mary ann blue gotera (6) mary biddinger (1) mary roberts rinehart award (1) mary shelley (1) matchbook (1) maura stanton (1) maureen thorson (170) meena rose (3) megan hippler (1) melanie villines (1) melanie wolfe (1) melina blue gotera (3) mental illness (1) meter (7) mfa (2) michael heffernan (2) michael martone (2) michael ondaatje (1) michael shermer (2) michael spence (1) michelle obama (1) middle witch (1) mirror northwest (1) misky (1) molossus (1) monkey (1) morel mushrooms (2) mushroom hunting (1) music (3) muslim (1) my custom writer blog (1) myth (1) mythology (3) nagasaki (1) naked blonde writer (1) naked girls reading (1) naked novelist (1) napowrimo (177) narrative (2) natalya st. clair (1) nathan dahlhauser (1) nathaniel hawthorne (1) national geographic (3) national poetry month (178) native american (1) neil gaiman (2) neoformalism (1) New Formalists (1) New York School (1) nick carbó (3) ninang (1) north american review (7) north american review blog (2) of books and such (1) of this and such (1) ottava rima (2) oulipo (1) pablo picasso (2) pacific crossing (1) padre timoteo gotera (1) painting (1) palestinian american (1) palindrome (1) palinode (1) palmer hall (1) pantoum (1) paradelle (2) paranormal (1) parkersburg iowa (1) parody (4) parody poetry journal (1) parol (1) pastoral poetry (1) pat bertram (2) pat martin (1) paula berinstein (1) pause for the cause (2) pca/aca (1) peace (2) peace of mind band (1) pecan grove press (2) pepito gotera (1) percy bysshe shelley (2) performance poetry (1) persephone (1) persona phone (1) peter padua (1) petrarch (1) petrarchan sonnet (9) phil memmer (1) philip larkin (1) philippine news (1) philippine scouts (6) philippine-american war (1) philippines (8) phish (1) pinoy (1) pinoy poetics (1) pixie lott (1) podcast (1) podcasts (3) poem-a-day challenge (175) poetics (6) poetry (5) poetry imitation (1) poetry international (1) poetry reading (4) poets against (the) war (2) pop culture (2) popcorn press (1) prejudice (1) presidio of san francisco (1) prince (3) princess grace foundation (1) promotion (1) prose poem (3) ptsd (2) puppini sisters (1) puptent poets (2) pyrrhic (1) quatrain (3) r.e.m. (1) rachel morgan (2) racism (1) rainer maria rilke (1) rap (1) rattle (1) ray fajardo (1) reggie lee (1) rembrandt (1) ren powell (1) reviews (1) revision (1) rhyme (8) rhysling awards (4) rhythm (1) richard fay (1) richard hugo (1) rick griffin (1) rime (1) rippled mirror hay(na)ku (1) robert bly (1) robert frost (2) robert fulghum (1) robert j christenson (1) robert lee brewer (175) robert mezey (1) robert neville (1) robert zemeckis (1) rock and roll (2) roger zelazny (1) romanian (1) ron kowit (1) ronald wallace (2) rondeau (1) ross gay (1) rubaiyat (1) rubaiyat sonnet (1) run-d.m.c. (1) saade mustafa (1) salt publishing (1) salvador dali (1) san francisco (8) sandra cisneros (1) santa claus (1) santana (1) sapphics (1) sarah deppe (1) sarah palin (1) sarah smith (26) satan (1) sayaka alessandra (1) schizophrenia (1) science fiction (1) science fiction poetry association (1) science friction (1) scifaiku (1) scott walker (1) screaming monkeys (1) scripture (1) sculpture (1) sena jeter naslund (1) senryu (3) sestina (7) sevenling (1) shadorma (1) shaindel beers (2) shakespearean sonnet (1) sharon olds (1) shawn wong (1) shiites or shia (1) sidney bechet (1) skateboard (1) skylaar amann (1) slant rhyme (5) slide shows (1) small fires press (1) sniper (1) somersault abecedarian (1) sonnet (32) sonnetina (3) soul (1) southeast asian american (1) spanish (1) specificity (1) speculative poetry (1) spenserian stanza (1) spiraling abecedarian (1) spondee (1) spooky (1) st. patrick's day (1) stanford university (1) stanley meltzoff (1) stanza (1) stars and stripes (2) stereogram (1) steve hazlewood (1) stevie nicks (1) stone canoe (2) sue boynton (1) suite101 (2) sunflowers (1) surges (1) susan l. chast (1) syllabics (1) sylvia plath (1) syzygy poetry journal (2) t. m. sandrock (1) t. s. eliot (2) tanka (1) tarzan (1) teaching creative writing (2) ted kooser (1) term paper mill (1) terrance hayes (1) terza rima (10) terza rima haiku sonnet (7) terzaiku sonnet (4) terzanelle (1) the byrds (1) thomas alan holmes (114) thomas crofts (4) thomas faivre-duboz (1) thunderstorm (1) thurifer (1) tiger (1) tilly the laughing housewife (1) time travel (1) tom perrotta (1) tom petty (1) tom phillips (1) toni morrison (2) tornado (1) translation (2) translitic (3) tribute in light (1) trickster (1) triolet (1) triskaidekaphobia (1) tritina (1) trochee (1) tucson (1) typhoon haiyan (1) typhoon yolanda (1) university of northern iowa (6) unrhymed sonnet (1) us army (7) vampire (2) ven batista (29) verses typhoon yolanda (1) veterans' day (2) via dolorosa (1) video poetry (6) vietnam war (4) viktor vasnetsov (1) villanelle (1) vince del monte (1) vincent van gogh (1) virgil wren (1) virtual blog tour (1) visual poetry (3) vladimir putin (1) volkswagen (1) w. somerset maugham (1) wallace stevens (3) walt mcdonald (1) walt whitman (3) war (7) war in afghanistan (2) war in iraq (2) wartburg college (1) waterloo (1) whypoetrymatters (1) wile e. coyote (1) wilfred owen (1) william blake (1) william carlos williams (1) william f tout (1) william gibson (1) william oandasan (1) william shakespeare (2) wind (1) winter (1) women's art (1) wooster review (1) writing (1) writing away retreats (1) writing show (1) wwii (6) young adult (1) yusef komunyakaa (6) zone 3 (1)