Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Quick Reaction to the Inaugural Poem

TWR DOESN'T NORMALLY LIVE blog, but we thought today's inaugural poem warranted immediacy.

We don't have the full text of the poem in front of us, but we found it fine. It lacked punch, linguistic and thematic gravitas, but then again, compared to the drama and high rhetoric of the campaign, even President Obama's inaugural speech glided low. Both Alexander's poem and Obama's speech were measured. Neither went for the "Ask not" or "The only thing to fear" moment; they sought commonality and connection, they evinced humility.

Interestingly, both Obama and Alexander took this opportunity to imbue their moments with pragmatism. Neither were particularly poetic. They laid out plans, they sketched blueprints, they wrote menus.

The best moment in Alexander's poem may have been her catalogue of professions (teacher, farmer) who, in going about their business embodied the practice of everyday poetry. Echoing Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes, Alexander also invoked Angelou toward the end of her poem, "On the brink, the brim, the cusp," suggesting the optimism sitting, not so patiently, on the nation's tongue.


  1. I believe that Alexander's inaugural poem is not quite the poem that "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe" is.

  2. I thought the poem was fine; upon reading it myself, I liked it even more. However, her deliverance of the poem, her reading of it, was poor. Too choppy, not fluid, not poetic. I was a bit disappointed.

  3. While I completely agree with you about Alexander's poem, I have to disagree about Obama's speech. His references to scripture, song and various verse were inspiring. His delivery was spot on! It will endure as one of the best speeches in our nation's history.

  4. I'm glad you liked the speech; I had several people email me directly who agree with you. I, too, like it, but not for reasons I expected. It was pragmatic, realistic, and unusually specific and focused. I also liked that it didn't pull punches in regard to the Bush legacy. In short, I liked it for its prose-ness.

  5. I know, I know, it's late to weigh in about Alexander's inaugural poem, but I think it was less than memorable.

    Note to Poets: Learn to read your work aloud -- as if hundreds of millions are listening, hanging on your every word.