Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poetry at President Obama's Inauguration


At President Obama's inauguration today, his friend Elizabeth Alexander read a poem she wrote for the occasion. (They were academic colleagues at the University of Chicago, I believe.)





Here is the text of the poem Professor Alexander read at the inaugural today. Please note: this is a transcript and not the poem with its actual lineation. When a definitive version of the poem surfaces in the news or the web, I'll update.

Praise song for the day.

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 someone 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 thy self."

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 preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.


by Elizabeth Alexander

What do you think about Alexander's poem? And her performance?


Note from 1-21-2009: I have crossed out the text above because I have realized it's really an injustice to Professor Alexander to post her poem in this way. For the correct version, please see my blog entry for 21 January 2009.

2 comments:

Barbara Jane Reyes said...

Hi V.Go, I've posted my response on my blog, to which the NY Times is now linked, so all kinds of interesting and varied response is coming in. I think it's so interesting that the responses criticize Alexander's plainspoken/"vapid" language, and then also criticize her being esoteric and inaccessible. Isn't this a contradiction? I think it is. Anyway, I think the poem itself was fine. Is it also telling that what she's measured finely into these tercets, a transcriber could not detect from her reading the proper line breaks?

Also, the Academy of American Poets website has the proper poem posted - 14 tercets and a final one-line stanza.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Cheers, B.Re

Vince Gotera said...

Hey, B.Re!

Yes, good points. I'm going to go read your blog response, though kinda swamped right now. Look at my 1/21 post, where I also discuss the poem and show it (thanks for telling me where I could find the proper text of the poem). See ya.

--V.Go

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