Sunday, January 25, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem

After the inauguration I posted that I didn't much like Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day." Some liked it, like Others not so much. In fact, the Tribune called the response "mild" and said it only ranked 429 on Here's a quote from the Times online: "Mr Obama understands the music of cadence and beauty that simple repetition can bring; Professor Alexander, alas, sounded merely repetitious, or at the very least, confused: 'All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.' That tongue seems like a pretty crowded place to me. Ouch."

Today, however, Mary Schmich made me think about it. As one who is always for the underdog, I wonder if I should have given her more of a chance. Like me, Mary has begun to feel a little protective of Alexander. Since my daughter and husband graduated from Yale, I feel even more so. As Schmich says, poetry is highly individualistic, and, let's face it, most Americans don't much care about poetry. They just wanted the day to continue. Besides, like some on Wordcraft, I am certain some think poetry must rhyme and have perfect meter (Roses are red, etc.). She also had a tough act to follow. Further, as only the fourth poet at an inauguration, she had a lot of pressure. Robert Frost spoke at Kennedy's and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams spoke at Clinton's. According to Schmich, all three got mixed reviews.

So I read "Praise Song for the Day" again. And again. I began to like it more. Mary cites these as the best lines, and I have to admit, I like them, too:

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

picked the cotton and lettuce,
built brick by brick the glittering
they would then keep clean and
work inside of.

Nice. But then I like free verse poetry. I suppose I can understand that some don't.

Perhaps the next president should have a limerick reading. Now that would have to get good reviews!

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