sandik

Obama Inaugural Poem by Elizabeth Alexander

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I'm not at all familiar with Elizabeth Alexander, but was very taken with some of the images from the poem she read at the inaugural today. Any thoughts?

(Here it is, if you didn't get a chance to hear it this morning)

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Thanks for posting, sandik. An article from late last year about Alexander.

Ms. Alexander, 46, is the incoming chairwoman of the African-American studies department at Yale and the mother of two sons, 9 and 10. She writes often of race, gender and class, in both poetry and prose, nurtures young black poets through Cave Canem, a poetry workshop, and has been a friend of Mr. Obama for more than a decade.

Asked if she thought that the friendship played a role in her being picked for the inauguration, she said no. The Obamas have many friends and know other poets, she said.

Nice gesture to have a poet read at the inaugural.

In Japan, they’ve been doing the poetry thing all along, and members of the imperial family compose their own.

Japan's imperial poetry reading ceremony, an annual tradition that goes back over 1,000 years, was held at the palace Thursday, with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko sitting quietly as court readers chanted poems evoking nature and the environment.

The solemn, pomp-filled ceremony, at which singers wearing tuxedos slowly chant poems in front of the royal family, was held at an austere palace hall and broadcast live on national television.

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Thanks, Sandik. I'm still working out my thoughts and feelings about the poem. It contains images that stir me and others I find awkward and forced and not as clear as they could be.

My favorite poetry of the day was at the end of Reverend Lowery's benediction, when he turned bluesman Big Bill Broonzy's lamentation

"If you was white, should be all right,

if you was brown, stick around,

but as you's black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"

into the anticipation verging on celebration of

"that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

bracketing those lines with echoes from Christian scripture and then, by calling on the audience to "say amen," prompting us, as it were, to finish the poem with him.

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I was so taken aback by 'when yellow will be mellow,' etc. that I'm afraid the nuances of Lowery's delivery escaped me. That's an interesting take, though. It might be best to keep to Alexander's poem. :wub:

Her prosaic verse was a little too prosy, although I saw what she was getting at. (It didn't help that she followed the main event on the program, so a slight letdown was probably inevitable.)

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I was tickled by Lowery's references, those lines in particular. In an NPR commentary, Hedrick Hertzberg felt that Obama "spoke" rather than "sang" in his address, and I thought that Lowery moved between the two several times.

Dirac, I hear your 'prosy' element, but for me that came more from her delivery than the actual text. Reading it aloud to myself, it feels quite different than hearing her speaking voice.

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.....but for me that came more from her delivery than the actual text.

I thought Elizabeth Alexander's verbal delivery of her own work was terrible. Lowery would have given it a more dramatic read! Its measured, monotone recitation took much away from the redeeming qualities the poem, which I also thought was pretty bad, had, -- not the concepts in it, but how it was written. I agree with you, sandik, that reading it yourself gives the poem more clout, rhythm, and purpose than it achieved as performed this afternoon.

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The positioning of this recitation on the program schedule was unfortunate. She began reading just as most of the people in the audience were attempting to walk away. I don't recall Robert Frost, at JFK's inauguration, getting this kind of bad placement.

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I didn't like the poem until after "noise and bramble, thorn and din," until it settled down into quiet anti-heroic images of people doing simple, real enough things. A nice antidote to the Reagan through Bush 2d years.

Good poets are not necessarily the best readers of their own works. Elizabeth Bishop's poems sound so plain and uninteresting in the recordings she made of them, but on the page... ["On the east steps, the Air Force Band in uniforms of Air Force blue is playing loud and hard..."]

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Like many people in Britain yesterday, I watched several hours of live transmission of the inauguration process and much commentary afterwards. I would say that us Brits think we do formal occasions better than anyone else but in this case, Washington showed us another way which was moving in its dignity and formality. In what other country would an outgoing and incoming President be so friendly at the point of the exchange of roles. I am a sucker when a country bares its soul about what it means in terms of its nationality and pride and Obama et al moved me to tears.

I had never seen or heard of Elizabeth Alexander before and I beheld a woman of great dignity who read a serious and powerful poem which though stilted at times in content and dellivery I thought was most fitting and I was truly impressed. I hope a renewal is to take place in America and that people will remember Alexander's poem not in entirely in its words but in the statements and feelings it expressed.

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I have very mixed feelings about attempts to incorporate art into civic ceremonies -- I appreciate the sentiment, but too often the art itself is pretty pedestrian, and in the end, just seems pasted on. Let the Marine Band play (it's their job), swear the guy in, listen to his speech, and move on to the parade. The peaceful transfer of power is momentous enough on its own, and simple dignity is the best expression of its grandeur.

Well, maybe one more thing should be on the agenda: Invite Aretha Franklin to sing some civic hymn or other so long as she promises to wear a fabulous hat! I loved that hat: a perfect, bold expression of the exuberant joy of a remarkable day.

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Thanks, leonid, for your moving response. It's wonderful to know how many citizens of the world have not given up on the United States. One point was very important to me:

In what other country would an outgoing and incoming President be so friendly at the point of the exchange of roles.
I am also greatly impressed by this. there has been much comment about how helpful the Bush administration has been in matters of the transition, giving unprecedented security clearance and access to Obama appointees as they prepared for the new administration. I haven't watched Bush on tv much over the past 7 or so years, so I was actually shocked by how youthful and relaxed .... possiblyi, happy?! .... he appeared to be.
I have very mixed feelings about attempts to incorporate art into civic ceremonies -- I appreciate the sentiment, but too often the art itself is pretty pedestrian, and in the end, just seems pasted on.
I tend to agree with this. Anything that leaves the audience with the impression that "the arts" are "obligatory" and "good for you" really doesn't benefit anyone. Better for the Obamas to make one of their first White House events a serious (and nationally televised!) presentation of serious performing artists. Pablo Casals may no longer be with us but how about .... [ fill in the blank ] ?

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Anything that leaves the audience with the impression that "the arts" are "obligatory" and "good for you" really doesn't benefit anyone. Better for the Obamas to make one of their first White House events a serious (and nationally televised!) presentation of serious performing artists. Pablo Casals may no longer be with us but how about .... [ fill in the blank ] ?

Stimulus opportunity! Monthly Presidential performing arts broadcasts, inlcuding live HD simulcasts in movie theaters and school auditoriums, Hulu streams, and You Tube videos. Send a DVD with each Tax Refund check.

The list of potential command performers is long indeed. Although Renee Fleming is not a particular favorite of mine, she'd be a well-known and glamorous first choice to kick the series off. Nico Muhly and / or Matt Haimowitz live from Le Poisson Rouge would be fun ...

I remember a televised performance of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts dancing something from Rubies in the East Room of the White House. (And I do hope I'm not mis-remembering!)

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The peaceful transfer of power is momentous enough on its own, and simple dignity is the best expression of its grandeur.

How true. We forget how rare it is for power to be handed over peacefully in this way. At worst, the ex-President stands by with a grumpy look, but that's about as bad as it gets. :wub:

I didn't like the poem until after "noise and bramble, thorn and din," until it settled down into quiet anti-heroic images of people doing simple, real enough things. A nice antidote to the Reagan through Bush 2d years.

Good poets are not necessarily the best readers of their own works. Elizabeth Bishop's poems sound so plain and uninteresting in the recordings she made of them, but on the page...

The 'thorn and din' passage was awkward, I thought. It does improve after that. But this was a poem intended all along to be read aloud to a big crowd, so how it sounds is at least as important as how it reads.

It's true that many poets don't read their own poems very well. W.C. Williams springs to mind.

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It is really too bad that they left Denyce Graves out of the ceremony. Washington's own black opera star was, according to the Washington Post, not even asked to participate.

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I remember a televised performance of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts dancing something from Rubies in the East Room of the White House. (And I do hope I'm not mis-remembering!)

No, you are not misremembering. They performed the Rubies duet for President Carter. Patricia McBride was there, too, and danced the Act One Harlequinade pas de deux with Baryshnikov; they had a coda and solos, too (the only video souvenir of that magical lullaby Balanchine choreographed for her in Act Two), and some local kids offered a few of the enchanting children's dances. I'm with you about La Fleming, but if she could help jump-start some kind of revival of the arts at the White House, more power to her.

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The Bushes were actually pretty good about promoting the high arts, on a personal level, with appearances at the Kennedy Center and invitations to the White House. Laura Bush was a great reader and well known for it. Policy was a different matter, and it’s possible Obama could make a real difference there.

I had never seen or heard of Elizabeth Alexander before and I beheld a woman of great dignity who read a serious and powerful poem which though stilted at times in content and dellivery I thought was most fitting and I was truly impressed.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts from across the water, leonid.

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Any thoughts?

I was very impressed by the poem. It has such deceptively simple words, and yet invokes immensely powerful "everyday" American images......images that in total can only be America.

I have had an inordinate interest for a long time in how we all create our lives, our very selves, with language; and in how our views are shaped by the words of others -- especially while we are still very young. From that perspective, these 2 lines struck me deeply (particularly the ending phrase of each line):

------------------------------------------------------------

All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

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Tangentially, I noticed that Obama's address has been printed in a nice little blue hardbound book.

But the twistiest part for me is that I saw it Wednesday, in a vending machine at the Seattle Center. ('culture campus' in Seattle -- site of 62 World's Fair, now home of several theaters and other venues) There were a couple other books in the machine, including a Seattle guide book, as well as the usual vendables. Forgot to look for the price...

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