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YOU'VE GOTTA READ THIS POEM! > elizabeth alexander's inaugural poem

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message 1: by jo (last edited Jan 20, 2009 01:28PM) (new)

jo | 11 comments here is the transcript from CQ politics. i find this poem really great. in fact, i love it. it's a very brave poem. alexander dared to be a poet and not a preacher. for this, brava and hallelujah:

(i imagine the line breaks might change once alexander releases the official version, but what do i know? nothing)

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ 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.


message 2: by Ruth (last edited Jan 21, 2009 02:28PM) (new)

Ruth Thanks for posting this! I like it MUCH more now that I have read it; somehow it didn't feel "big" enough for that enormous public space at the inauguration. Or maybe Alexander just needed to declaim it with more energy, a la Martin Espada with "Alabanza." Despite this, it is a wonderful poem.


message 3: by Nina (new)

Nina | 1351 comments I chuckled during the first stanza, all the "ing" words.


message 4: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 5064 comments There have been a lot of "transcriptions" of Alexander's poem out there, but finally here the poem, with line breaks. The website I got it from says they're the correct ones.

Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander

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 some one 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 thyself,
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 pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander.

I agree it suffered in the delivery. Reading to a crowd of millions in the open air demands a different take than reading to a small group of poetry lovers in a cozy room or small auditorium.






message 5: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 104 comments it certainly reads better on the page, and i think we ought to celebrate that obama invited a poet at all -- it is only the fourth time that has happened -- but i don't think her delivery can be blamed on the open air. she read with the same poet voice that drove me out of intimate church basement poetry readings -- a sort of failed amateur enunciation exercise that is cloying and runs against the grain of the poem. why do so many poets read that way?


message 6: by jo (new)

jo | 11 comments how do you think she should have read it?


message 8: by jo (new)

jo | 11 comments ahhhhhhhh. i know what you mean. great selections!


message 9: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 9 comments You know Pound's insane ravings against usura sounded a lot crazier before this most recent collapse of the credit markets in the U.S. I went back a few weeks ago and read some of his more coherent statements on economics and it really just boils down to a very valid suspicion of any economic system that moves into a credit-based economy away from an economy where value is attached to real goods or services.

Pull down Ben Vernake, I say pull down...


message 10: by Joseph (new)

Joseph (tuscaloosarunnergmailcom) | 5 comments Did anyone catch the Daily Show snippet (or was it Colbert) that asked the question "So how do you clear 2 million people off the Washington Mall?" and then the following shot was people leaving in droves as Alexander read?

I shot soda thru my nose laughing. I also wondered if anyone left within her eyeshot; if so, that's got to be distracting.


message 12: by Paula (new)

Paula (Soapsoane) | 10 comments The whole point of the poem was and is its context...that the space was given over to A.N Other to show the ground


message 13: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments I met now President and Mrs. Obama the Saturday before the Election. I presented them with my two books of poetry. I plan to do poetry in the White House. I would have recited my poem, On This Soil.
Check it out at poemhunter.com. You can google my name, Victoria Heim and see it. Poetry is still served by that poem at that moment on that day.




message 14: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 104 comments i'm not saying it's a bad poem, and i'm very happy obama invited a poet to read at his inauguration, i just wish ms alexander had read it with less of that "whyyyy, prayyyy, do the birrrrds of spriiiing, diiiieeee while weeeee are stiiiiiirrrrriing" thing that so many poets do. i mean, if rick warren sounds more poetical than the poet you invited, something's going wrong.


message 15: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments Sometimes another person reciting the poem or reading it makes a difference. I am visually challenged so I enjoy having others do my readings.


message 16: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments Andrew, did you check out my poem?


message 17: by Louise (new)

Louise Chambers (LouiseC303) I was wondering if Elizabeth Alexander might have been cold, and thus kept her speech pace moderate in order that she not stumble over her words. I know that when I am cold my lips and face tend to not work well and I mumble or stumble on my words. She may also have been dragging out the words because of reverb from the sound system.

Did you know that Yo-Yo Ma, Perlman, and the other members of the quartet were "synching" to a recording? In an interview with Ma on NPR he disclosed that the performance had to be synched because the extreme cold wouldn't allow the instruments to be played properly.

So I'm thinking that Ms. Alexander was just about frozen and was going slowly so that she would give a solid performance. :-)


message 18: by Nina (new)

Nina | 1351 comments Andrew, I am so glad you posted the original comment about dramatic reading. I've often wondered if that is taught in MFA programs.

I am here on the East Coast, and it was bitter cold. Yes, the string musicians were not able to subject not only their strings but their exquisite instruments (stop laughing)to the extreme temp.

I agree about the content of the poem, and I agree that it is indeed remarkable that a poet was asked to write/present for the inauguration.


message 19: by Ruth (last edited Jan 28, 2009 01:39PM) (new)

Ruth | 5064 comments I used to play the guitar and I'm well aware of what happens to instruments out in the cold. At the very least they go instantly out of tune, and become almost impossible to retune. At the worst, they can be permanently damaged.

All the time the quartet was playing I kept saying to my husband, how can they make music at all out there in the cold? The audience was better off listening to a recording.






message 20: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments The music was recorded because of the cold. Perhaps Elizabeth should have also recorded her poem.


message 21: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 104 comments come on. she didn't read it that way because of the cold. it's not like her teeth were chattering. she was just doing the poet voice -- the old, misguided and unmusical poet voice. down with the poet voice!


message 22: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments I think it is time to look forward to when a poet is invited to the White House for a performance.


message 23: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 5064 comments Wouldn't it be wonderful if they held regular poetry readings in the Blue Room?



message 24: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 104 comments I set the height of the bar by Lincoln's standard. In 1855, a completely unknown New York poet broke into the printing press where he worked and illegally and anonymously printed his own book of homo-erotic avant-garde poetry and then did the most prudent thing imaginable -- he mailed copies to the country's leading poets and critics as well as to the president. When Lincoln received his copy, which is unthinkable today, he actually read it, thought about it, assessed it, and commented on it. Can you imagine Jack Spicer getting a copy of one of his books in Eisenhower's hands? Or CA Conrad getting a chapbook through the White House mail to George W Bush? It's unthinkable. Maybe Barack Obama will do more than have a poet show up as inaugural window dressing and will be a regular reader of and commenter on contemporary American poetry. I know he's busy, but Lincoln found time what with that whole Civil War business and all.


message 25: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments I did get my book to now Vice President Joe Biden. He did say he had read some of the poetry. I told him my husband, Albert had passed away on Oct. 13th and he said I have been there I know how you feel. I am just going to have to get to the Oprah Show and organize poets for White House readings. Now is our time. There are the two books that I gave to someone in the campaign. I can hope that the Obamas have them.


message 26: by David (new)

David | 22 comments During his first term, I sent President Bush a poem or short story once per month, each one written in response to some policy move of the previous month. I always included a letter, asking what he thought about this or that and usually asking if he had any writing feedback (e.g., "Do you think the meter is too regular?" or "Is the allegory too obvious?"). From time to time I would get one strange form letter or another -- the first one I received began "Thank your for your letter." Yup -- "Thank your" -- and that on the official letter sent to anybody who wrote to the President. Anyway, I liked the idea that the FBI was probably anthologizing my work in a crazy-person file. Here's a link to an article about the project, early in the project, if anyone's interested:

http://www.madison.com/archives/read....


message 27: by Victoria (new)

Victoria (victoriapoetry) | 8 comments We really do need to keep President Obama aware that
poets want to have a presence in this era of politics.
So I am visualizing poetry in the White House.


message 28: by Rossvassilev1976 (new)

Rossvassilev1976 | 1 comments That is one shitty poem. If you want to read some real from-the-gut poetry, check out Opium Poetry http://opiumpoetry.blogspot.com/


message 29: by Jeffery (new)

Jeffery Mcnary (jefferymcnary) | 5 comments i'm intrigued by the interest with this thing.lol. the woman's brother was on the obama transition team and a player in that adminstration. her father is a d.c. lawyer and former secretary of the army. it's junk. hardly sound writing. and were the political linkages not there, or the republic so starved for some simblance of culture, such a tawdry reading would not have occured. it's bad fiction, crafted for fictional characters.


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