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American Sublime: Poems

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  134 Ratings  ·  20 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,
...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Graywolf Press
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salt. by Nayyirah WaheedTeaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shirenejma by Nayyirah Waheedbone by Yrsa Daley-WardI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Poetry by Women of Color
22nd out of 71 books — 28 voters
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Poetry
177th out of 406 books — 252 voters


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Community Reviews

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Rowena
Jul 06, 2015 Rowena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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:

Smile

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
...more
Terry
Dec 23, 2008 Terry rated it it was amazing
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?
Aaron
Jun 13, 2016 Aaron rated it really liked it
A beautiful collection by an outstanding poet. There is so much to enjoy here and I really wish that I was more engaged with poetry so that I could get at the depth of the poems. Still, even on the surface, these are deep, inviting poems that show you struggle and determination and life at its most trying and most joyful. In particular, there is a subset of poems that deal specifically with Amistad that are very engaging from a historical aspect. I look forward to reading more of Alexander's wor ...more
Alarie
Jan 18, 2016 Alarie rated it liked it
My rating may be lower than I expected for Alexander’s book simply because I ‘d just read Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I’d likely had more than my fill of racism for the week, but I also didn’t feel as pulled into these poems as I have by Rankine, Natasha Trethewey, C. Dale Young, Kevin Young, Langston Hughes, and more. Many of these poems were too listy to me.

However, I also admired quite a few, particularly in the section titled “Amistad,” about a rebellion on a Spanish slave ship and the tria
...more
Lauren
Jan 31, 2009 Lauren rated it really liked it
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?
Mike
Jun 20, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
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.
DilanAc
Jan 23, 2016 DilanAc rated it liked it
Mostly short lined poems, often narrative, usually accessible. I am impressed by her variety of subject matter - slavery, art, religion, hair, poetry, food, music. She can command both the high - philosophy, art - and the more quotidian - coconut cake and hair braids. But I wanted more mystery - more nuance. These veer off into polemics too often. They are musical though, the sound of them is often lovely.
I also like the series on the Amistad slave ship. Very skillful to be able to tell a whole
...more
T.
Feb 07, 2012 T. rated it it was ok
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
...more
Meghan Pinson
Feb 19, 2014 Meghan Pinson rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Paul
Aug 11, 2015 Paul rated it liked it
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
Derek Emerson
Jun 29, 2016 Derek Emerson rated it really liked it
A strong collection of poetry highlighted by a series of poems about The Amistad, the slave ship taken over by the slaves. The poem, "Cinque Redux" is especially powerful as she reimagines the leader of the revolt considering his legacy with an unapologetic review of his unforgiving character.
Maughn Gregory
Oct 10, 2015 Maughn Gregory rated it it was amazing
I cried listening to her inaugurate President Obama with loving, challenging words in 2009 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH6fC...). (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" (http://www.onbeing.org/program/elizab...).
Paul Mirek
Feb 06, 2014 Paul Mirek rated it liked it
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.
Kecia
Jan 06, 2009 Kecia rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, obama
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.
Andrea
Aug 21, 2009 Andrea rated it really liked it
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!
RUSA CODES
Feb 24, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 2006 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rus...
Julene
Aug 08, 2008 Julene rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Lynne
Jul 18, 2008 Lynne rated it it was ok
so far, it's o-k. the ars poetica section is tops. very sound-driven.
Artifice Magazine
Apr 02, 2009 Artifice Magazine rated it it was ok
Shelves: rebekah
I didn't listen to the Inaugural poem.
R.
May 27, 2012 R. rated it it was ok
I didn't listen to the Inaugural poem.
Sam
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Jul 21, 2016
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Approach to the subject 1 1 Nov 06, 2013 10:04PM  
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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.

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“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?”
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