‘Praise’ for Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem

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‘Praise’ for Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem

Poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander tried not to let the enormity of the occasion overwhelm her. Her task? Write a poem for the most important inauguration of our lives thus far. Write a poem and read it to the world. Write a poem that will be remembered forever.

As she was writing, Alexander says she viewed herself as a vessel and kept asking herself how she could "serve the moment" and not let everything else get in the way, which sounds like the only way to approach it. The resulting work, however, has already been criticized by Carol Rumens of the Guardian UK. Oh well, you can't please everybody.

What do you think of Alexander's poem?

Transcript of the inaugural poem: 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.



Comments [13]

Tex's picture

Excellent!

Excellent!

Twitter Time @kdhales

Allegra's picture

I agree in the part of love

I agree in the part of love

AngieInChi's picture

First, let me say that I

First, let me say that I admire Elizabeth Alexander for getting out there in front of millions of people worldwide to read her piece. And while Minniesota has a point "that maybe this moment in history and the feeling of it was the poetry and everything else appears pale in comparison", I just wasn't moved by it. I've been around too many poets, organized too many poetry and spoken word events and literary events to know a good piece of written work when I hear/read it. This just wasn't it. It was really a miss ... in fact, disappointing.

Good points, Lezbeth.

Kent's picture

Thanks Tex. X.O. Been busy

Thanks Tex. X.O.
Been busy moving to your neck of the woods...more on that later!

Lezbeth's picture

Good point.

Good point.

minniesota's picture

Lezbeth, I think that maybe

Lezbeth, I think that maybe this moment in history and the feeling of it was the poetry and everything else appears pale in comparison.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Lezbeth's picture

Okay, Minnie. You opened the

Okay, Minnie. You opened the door, so I'm going to step through it. I was disappointed in the poem. Maybe part of it was that this is such a grand, poetic time, full of irony and juxtaposition of emotional experience (the economy alongside this celebration of hopefullness)...so many poetic possibilities. To me, there were lovely, lyrical sections, engaging particularity ("pick up your pencils, begin"). To me, they lost their impact when the language went clunky. Also, poetry, for me, is largely about the psychological twist/insight/event of its closing. This one seemed to miss it. Or, maybe I missed it.

Xanadu's picture

I loved the poem and the way

I loved the poem and the way she delivered it.

Considering she was in the cold and speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of people and millions at home, I just admire the fact she did not have a total panic attack (like I would have) ... I envy anyone who can speak publicly like that!

Tex's picture

To me: We are all diversely

To me:

We are all diversely equal....at least that was intended....there are those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for that equality....we have strayed from our inalienables....it is up to us, by inherent love, to prove by our actions that we are egalitarian in our motives....it is up to us....

Good to have your input, Kent.....good to see you here again.....

Twitter Time @kdhales

minniesota's picture

Addendum: It feels weird to

Addendum: It feels weird to critique her poem due to its significance as a public event, as well as a work of art. So, I speak only from my own sense of sound and taste in poetry.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

minniesota's picture

There are some lovely themes

There are some lovely themes in this poem but as I am listening, I am unsure about the effectiveness of their execution. For example, I take my blue editing pencil to the second to last sentence:

"In today’s sharp sparkle, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

However, she is the poet. I am only the listener.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Grace Moon's picture

while i was there as she was

while i was there as she was giving the poem,... it went over my head. maybe because my head froze it was sooo cold.

i'm glad you posted the vid and the transcript because I think i just got what a brilliant and moving piece it actually was.

there was a great stream of consciousness to it. and to me she was really talking about a divine consciousness of love.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Fastgurrrl's picture

Beautiful. =)

Beautiful. =)