Presidential poetry

January 20, 2009
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For only the fourth time in history, poetry was officially a part of the U.S. Presidential inauguration.

So did the piece work for you? (You can find the text of Elizabeth Alexander's poem here.) How did it hold up to Maya Angelou's 1993 piece (remember "A rock, a river, a tree..."?) Or Robert Frost's piece-- actually two poems, one he meant to read, the other he switched to when he lost the first in the sun?

And then there was also Miller Williams' poem at the second Clinton bash.

Your thoughts on how Alexander's stacked up?
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  • All I could say was huh? It was so mundane and pedestrian for the Pres' inaug.
  • stimple
  • Anticlimactic at best. Delivered with the inflection of an automated voicemail.
  • Lackluster. The preacher who followed her conveyed much more emotion, import, and humanity with his folksy rhymes, impassioned delivery, and sense of humor. The official poem was just over-thought, reaching for both the appropriate tone for the historical situation and some kind of intellectual-academic cred, and failed at both.
  • This just reinforces my belief that poetry is irrelevant to contemporary mainstream culture. It's like harpsichord music- it had its time, but there are more relevant ways to communicate ideas to a large audience. Poetry has become esoteric.

    That said, she could've cut the beginning of the poem and just started with the Say it plain... line. That had some power and relevance.

    I guess it was a tall order to try to encompass or express the significance of the inauguration.
  • I sat there befuddled wondering who on earth deemed this woman a poet! I actually commented at the time to someone, why couldn't get Maya Angelou? She certainly has better delivery and her words are more powerful and evocative.
  • I was actually entranced by the piece.

    I'm not sure if her delivery style was done in that particular way in order to reninforce the simplicity of what she was saying, but for some reason it worked for me.

    And I think it worked for me because I had to think about her word choice and not get caught in the poetry of her voice.

    I found it interesting.
  • I did not hear Ms. Alexander's delivery, but having just read it, I have to say I disagree with the other comments. I think it speaks to our common experiences, our shared humanity. It certainly conveys optimism for the fresh start we all want right now. I encourage you to reread it.
  • Maybe it was because of the simple language and delivery that it reminded me of beat poets like Allen Ginsberg.
  • The poem completely sucked all the momentum out of the event. It was written like 30 bad Haiku's combined together.

    Very disappointed considering the power of Obama's speech.
  • A bit of a disappointment in the presentation. I thought the poem was okay, though the poet was probably trying too hard and could have used an editor. It's a shame, because it was a great opportunity for poetry.
  • The simplicity of the poem is what made it so powerful. Each one-syllable word became more powerful and important because of her slow, careful enunciation. The word choice was interesting, and sort of gathered energy as she worked through the imagery and the scenes of ordinary America. Sometimes, I could hear echoes of other voices in the cadence of her delivery. At other times, her words combined to remind me of other poems, other speeches. I thought she did a nice job of reflecting the common man quality that Obama wants for his administration. I really liked it.
  • I disagree with StutzArtist that poetry is irrevelant. The right words arranged the right way can cause you to see things differently and think about them.
    I agree with StutzArtist that the poem should have started with Say it plain. That is when she talked about the significance of the occasion.
    The beginning was like- we are all standing around and we got bored so let's go hang out at the Washington Mall.

    Not purposely picking on you Stutz Artist :)
  • Poem?? That was another speech! I bet it lasted five minutes! Did anyone think to tell this woman they were on a tight schedule?? Far too long and prosaic.
  • Just because someone can write poetry, doesn't mean they should try to read it aloud. I like the poem - it's just that the delivery was tedious and detracted from the written word.
  • I thought the reading by the poet was uninspired and uninspiring. Too bad they wasted that block of time, with the new president and the audience forced to witness it in the freezing cold. They could have made better use of those minutes or, perhaps, just had a shorter ceremony.
  • I must agree with cindy (#8) and Andrea Fagen (#12) above. I have read it several times since yesterday and I find it more interesting each time. As Alexander says in her first line Praise song for the day. This is written for this one day, this one important day. I don't read poetry on a regular basis but I enjoyed this as part of my memory of the inauguration.
  • I was impressed they found the female version of William Shatner.

    I thought it was terrible. No wonder they've only done it four times in the past.
  • As someone who was there and is just now reading this, I have to say many people standing near me left as soon as Obama's speech was over -- walking away during the poem. May have been more meaningful to people who were there if it was somehow done before the speech, but I'm not really sure how it works... glad I can read it here because it was hard to pay attention when herds of people were walking toward me.

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