January 21, 2009

Inaugural Poetry

Words cannot express my joy whenever I hear the words "President Obama." We thoroughly enjoyed the inauguration (evidence in the extended entry), and I think many other bloggers have covered the ground I would cover in describing my happiness.

So instead I'll talk about the inaugural poem.

There seems to be a nearly universal dislike of Elizabeth Alexander's poem, which I think is too bad, because I thought it was a very good poem. What was not so good, however, was the delivery. Alexander spoke as. if. every. word. had. a. period. after. it. The effect was something similar to how you'd speak to someone who had only heard the English language just recently and had taken one beginner's class in an attempt to learn it. Who was also hard of hearing. And standing there with a dictionary looking up every word. In the dark. Sadly, the emphasis on every word as a separate entity sounded more like a vocabulary list or a spelling test rather than words connected into a sentence expressing a coherent thought.

Which was really too bad, since I thought it was a very good poem.

Therefore, I have re-produced the text of the poem below. Go ahead and read it in your head (or out loud) the way a normal, fluent English-speaker would, and I think if you didn't like it during the auguration, you may like it much more now.

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.

There--doesn't that sound better?

Posted by Shelby at January 21, 2009 04:02 PM

First- how fun to see a live action Theo!!

And OMG Shelby. That poem is a million times better written that way. She's a wonderful poet, and I appreciate the layers within this poem. But. that. way. she. e. nun. ci. ates. is difficult to listen to. I heard her on NPR and hoped that was just her radio voice, but no. Ah well.

Posted by: Anita at January 29, 2009 08:53 PM
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