Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “American Sublime: Poems” as Want to Read:
American Sublime: Poems
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

American Sublime: Poems

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  125 ratings  ·  16 reviews
A brilliant new collection by Elizabeth Alexander, whose "poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh" (Rita Dove, The Washington Post)

Too many people have seen too much
and lived to tell, or not tell, or tell
with their silent, patterned bodies,
their glass eyes, gone legs, flower-printed flesh . . .
-from "Notes From"

In her fourth remarkable collection,
Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Graywolf Press
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about American Sublime, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about American Sublime

A World of Verse by Christopher  ShieldsThe Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. YeatsThe Iliad/The Odyssey by HomerThe Divine Comedy by Dante AlighieriThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
119th out of 379 books — 214 voters
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouGilded Cage by Alisa Andersonsalt. by Nayyirah Waheednejma by Nayyirah WaheedI Will Never Be Beautiful Enough to Make Us Beautiful Together by Mira González
Poetry by Women of Color
18th out of 23 books — 2 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 288)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I picked up this poetry collection by Elizabeth Alexander while waiting for my copy of her memoir, which I'm currently reading. I found these poems brilliant, interesting narratives of African-American history and culture.

The following poem was especially thought-provoking given the current police violence against black Americans:


When I see a black man smiling
like that, nodding and smiling
with both hands visible, mouthing

"Yes, Officer," across the street,
I think of my father, who taugh
There is no easy summation, but the closing lines from "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe" come close:
Poetry . . . / is the human voice, / and are we not of interest to each other?
I don't care what anyone had to say. I really enjoyed Elizabeth Alexander's inauguration speech. I also loved this collection of poems. I zipped through them while riding the subway out to Brooklyn. Subways + poetry = what could be better?
Verses of dire necessity for the times we live in, when history is ignored and marginalized and the things we hear and see with our eyes and ears still result in acquittals.
Feb 07, 2012 T. rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
Some lovely lines here. In Five Elegies: "...The poet Agha Shahid Ali / met that disease and then like a rose / blown open faced his death and died / after asking, in the shape of a poem, / Why must we ever?"

In Ode: "...our bodies say / This is who we are, no, This is what / we have done and continue to do."

In Ars Poetica #1,002: Rally: "People are violent," / ... / ..."Poetry," / I screamed, "Poetry / changes none of that"

And in Ars Poetica #100: I Believe: "Poetry... / is not all love, love, l
Meghan Pinson
Elizabeth Alexander was the poet who read for President Obama's inauguration. I love this poem, and I'll give the book five stars on account of this one alone. All it takes is one.


The Dream That I Told My Mother-in-Law

In the room almost filled with our bed,
the small bedroom, the king-sized bed high up
and on casters so sometimes we would roll,
in the room in the corner of the corner
apartment on top of a hill so the bed would roll,
we felt as if we might break off and drift,
float, and become our
Aug 11, 2015 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
On American Sublime: There were highs and lows, ups and downs, in Elizabeth Alexander's fourth poetry collection (a Pulitzer Prize finalist). To be fair, I believe I would have gotten even more out of her erudite poems if I was less wired to information highway technology and had a slightly better than above average grasp of the specific complexities, narratives, and nuances of African American studies and the challenges of employing a historically imaginative and reconstructive poetics. The fol ...more
Maughn Gregory
I cried listening to her inaugurate President Obama with loving, challenging words in 2009 ( (Sadly, those words today sound to me accusatory.) Her poems in this collection documenting cultural vernacular are fabulous. Her series on the Amistadt story is incredible. Listen to her hour-long interview on the radio podcast "On Being" (
Paul Mirek
I dug Alexander's rhythmic cadence and most of the contemporary pieces here, but the majority of the historical poems (including a long series on the Amistad that takes up the last fifth of the book) left me feeling more more removed, rather than closer, to the human elements within.
She'll be reading at Barack Obama's inaugration!!! How could I not want to read her work? I loved this slim volume of poems. My favorite section was Amistad. I requested the movie from the library...I want to know more now. I'm looking forward to the inaugural poem more than ever now.
My favorite line of the entire collection, which is from “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe”: "Poetry (and now my voice is raising)// is not all love, love, love." YES!
This was one of the 2006 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Odes, Elegies, Ars Poetica, it is all in her book layered and rich with memory and history. It has many lessons on life we all can learn and relearn.
so far, it's o-k. the ars poetica section is tops. very sound-driven.
Artifice Magazine
I didn't listen to the Inaugural poem.
I didn't listen to the Inaugural poem.
Antoinette Daley
Antoinette Daley marked it as to-read
Nov 24, 2015
A marked it as to-read
Nov 16, 2015
Etravia marked it as to-read
Nov 16, 2015
LaShene  Lowe
LaShene Lowe marked it as to-read
Oct 21, 2015
Kendra marked it as to-read
Oct 09, 2015
Tara added it
Oct 07, 2015
Deb marked it as to-read
Sep 24, 2015
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Kelly Lynn Thomas marked it as to-read
Sep 04, 2015
Jack marked it as to-read
Aug 30, 2015
Sarah marked it as to-read
Aug 24, 2015
Zanna marked it as to-read
Aug 23, 2015
Emma Sedlak
Emma Sedlak marked it as to-read
Aug 20, 2015
Molly marked it as to-read
Aug 11, 2015
Gianna Olson
Gianna Olson marked it as to-read
Aug 11, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Approach to the subject 1 1 Nov 06, 2013 02:04PM  
  • Please
  • Hip Logic
  • Brutal Imagination
  • Head Off & Split
  • Middle Earth: Poems
  • Monolithos: Poems, 1962 and 1982
  • The Wellspring
  • In the Next Galaxy
  • City of a Hundred Fires
  • leadbelly
  • Duende
  • Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk
  • Native Guard
  • School of the Arts
  • Dancing in Odessa
  • In the Surgical Theatre
  • Repair
  • Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness
Elizabeth Alexander is a Quantrell Award-winning American poet, essayist, playwright, university professor, and scholar of African-American literature and culture. She teaches English language/literature, African-American literature, and gender studies at Yale University. Alexander was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard during the 2007-08 academic year.

Alexander's po
More about Elizabeth Alexander...

Share This Book

“Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'")
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
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?”
More quotes…