Friday, December 19, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Inaugural Poet Announced

Poet Elizabeth Alexander will compose the poem for Barack Obama's inauguration. (From yesterday's article in Guardian.)
Barack Obama, perhaps the most literary president-elect of recent years, has chosen his friend, the poet Elizabeth Alexander, to read at his inauguration on 20 January.

Obama had been spotted carrying what appeared to be a book of the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott's poetry last month, but it is Alexander, a professor of African American studies at Yale University, who will compose a poem to be read at his swearing in as president. She will perform alongside Aretha Franklin, Itzak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. The participants were chosen based on requests from Obama and from vice-president-elect Joe Biden.
She will be contending with the spectres of Angelou's On the Pulse of Morning ("today I call you to my riverside, / If you will study war no more"), Williams's Of History and Hope ("We have memorized America, / how it was born and who we have been and where") and Frost's The Gift Outright ("Summoning artists to participate / In the august occasions of the state / Seems something artists ought to celebrate. / Today is for my cause a day of days. / And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise / Who was the first to think of such a thing.").

Here is an excerpt from Alexander's poem Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Her poem will be a gift to Obama, and to the nation as well. It will add to the ritual of the inauguration, and it will elevate the already historic event.

Can you imagine what it would be like to compose a poem that will be referenced in the same breath as Angelou and Frost?! 
Check out Elizabeth Alexander's website here.
Hear her speak on the Poetry Foundation podcast.
Edited to add...Here's a Washington Post article with great quotes from poet laureates about of composing the inaugural poem. (Thanks to Sara for the link.)

The Poetry Friday round up this week is at Author Amok.


  1. Thanks for such a wonderful, informative post. I really enjoyed reading it and can't wait to have time to read the rest of the poem. (I am a teacher too on my planning time right now, and you know how short that time is.)
    Happy Holidays! : )

  2. Thanks for sharing this info-- which I hadn't heard yet. Very exciting! Another reason to look forward to this momentous inauguration!

  3. This is exciting news! I can't wait to hear her. That website is full of richness. Check out the audio files!

  4. wow. thanks not only for the info but for an introduction to a beautifully talented poet.

  5. I'm so excited at this news! (Also can't understand why poetry hasn't been part of all inaugurations.) What a daunting task for any poet, but I'm sure she'll deliver :).

  6. Mary Lee,
    Thanks for sharing this information. I love the poem you shared. I feel hopeful when people like this are connected to the president.


Comment moderation is turned on.