At the inauguration of Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States, just after Obama’s inaugural address to the nation, a woman stepped up to the podium and began to recite a poem. Her name was Elizabeth Alexander.
Alexander is a professor at Yale, and according to TIME Magazine (read the article here), she is the fourth poet to read an original work at an inauguration. Her predecessors are Robert Frost (Kennedy, 1961), Maya Angelou (Clinton, 1993), and Miller Williams (Clinton, 1997) (1). Alexander has large shoes to fill, indeed.
Here’s a quote from Alexander’s interview with TIME:
So many of my poet friends and I were hoping that he would decide to have a poem at the Inaugural, because we felt that it would be a signal of his own evident value of the possibilities of language. What we have is his understanding that the arts do have a place in day-to-day life, that poetry can still us — that is, let us pause for a moment and, as we contemplate that careful, careful language, hopefully see situations anew, from a different angle. That’s so much of what art and poetry offer.
This is not the first indication of the literary Obama. In March 2007, a blogger for the Huffington Post reported unearthing several poems Obama had published while at Occidental College in Los Angeles (read the full story here). Time will tell how that literary leaning will translate to the White House.
As Americans wait to judge their newest president, Alexander reminds listeners that “moments of pause and contemplation in the midst of grand occasion” are as integral to our culture and society as ever.
For Interest’s Sake
- Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” in 1961.
- Maya Angelou recited “On the Pulse of Morning” in 1993.
- Miller Williams recited “Of History and Hope” in 1997.
- Alexander recited “Praise Song for the Day” in 2009.