Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Poem is a Window

Only three presidents have commisioned poets to write poems to be read at their innagurations.

Robert Frost read at the inauguration of JFK in 1961, Maya Angelou at the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993, Miller Williams in 1997 for the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Alexander who read today for the inauguration of Barak Obama.

When Robert Frost took the podium in 1961, the sun and the cold hindered him from seeing clearly the words to "Dedication", which he had written for the occasion. Instead, he recited a poem called "The Gift Outright" by memory. I love this story!

Maya Angelou read her beautiful poem, On the Pulse of Morning in 1993 and Miller Williams read Of History and Hope in 1997. Today, Elizabeth Alexander read her poem, Praise Song For the Day. Her delivery was not as powerful as someone like Maya Angelou, but she read a stunning poem that I look forward to reading again once it's published. A stanza that I loved was,

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

There were several artistic expressions included in todays ceremony. Aretha Franklin singing "My Country Tis of Thee", the quartet of Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet, the choirs, the beautiful prayers of Rick Warren and Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, and Elizabeth's poem. I'm so thankful for these creations that made their way into such a formal ceremony. I hope future presidents follow Kennedy, Clinton and Obama and realize the power of something as seemingly simple as a poem.

“A poem is a window that hangs between two or more human beings who otherwise live in darkened rooms.”
-Stephen Dobyns


Dave Zeman said...

Yep, Obama should put a poet on the cabinet... ME...



Nelson Prater said...

Another great stanza from one my favorite poets is:

I am afraid of beginning
'cause I don't know how to end
But you told me that the mountain before us
would become a plain in our eyes
So I won't despise
I won't despise the day
I won't despise the day of small things

sharon said...

alli! i am so glad to discover your blog. i am not at all shocked to find that it is indeed a good read. i, too, loved all of the events of this year's inauguration. i'm still thinking about the reverend's prayer.

i hope you are feeling well these days! that sweet baby is going to be here before you know it. let me know if you need anything! and let's try to get together somewhere other than a gas station in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. :)