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Mark Flanagan

Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem

By January 20, 2009

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Barack Obama's inaugural address was followed immediately by Elizabeth Alexander's stirring inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day":

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.

---

Addendum: Graywolf Press will release commemorative chapbook edition of Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem in February 2009.

Comments

January 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm
(1) Cat Scoular says:

Brilliant piece of writing.
Perfect for such a great day for freedom & hope not just for the USA but for the world.
A new time of change has begun.
A new chapter in our consciousness to move forward is now in the process of being written.
We are in a state of becoming…
ONE!

January 20, 2009 at 1:40 pm
(2) W. Baird Blackstone says:

There are elements of this wonderful, resonant poem that remind me of Robert Penn Warren’s “Waiting”. We have been “waiting” for 40+ years, with a brief Georgian interlude, for someone to inspire. At last.

January 20, 2009 at 1:42 pm
(3) sarah rlk says:

Let us walk forward in the light. Praise gratitude appreciation commitment and the light of love!

January 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm
(4) Nancy Porte says:

Thanks so much for posting this.
I started looking for it as soon as the ceremony was over and yours was the first one I saw.

January 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm
(5) poemlibrarian says:

Thanks for posting this so quickly! There’s one typo – consider instead of considers in line about farmer.

January 20, 2009 at 2:00 pm
(6) contemporarylit says:

Thank you.

January 20, 2009 at 2:45 pm
(7) Gene Keller says:

Thanks for the post. I like the poem better on the screen than the performance. Phrases like “Words spiny or smooth” and “today’s sharp sparkle” are effective. The Sandburgian broad-shouldered plain speech is admirable.

Perhaps I had too many expectations. The small disappointment comes from the problem of the public poem. I found Rev. Lowery’s prayer at the end spoke more poetry to my soul.

January 20, 2009 at 2:56 pm
(8) Oh My says:

Oh my gosh that sucked.

January 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm
(9) RAL says:

I agree with Oh My. This is a real disappointment. It tries to do too much, it’s slack and wordy in parts, and it telegraphs its “message.” It’s a weak child of Whitman’s style without his punch.

January 20, 2009 at 3:34 pm
(10) Melissa says:

What a disappointment. Her overenunciated, emotionally flat reading and the sheer inadequacy of this clunky, immature poem were such a letdown on this otherwise soul-lifting day.

January 20, 2009 at 3:52 pm
(11) ancientboards says:

Frost, Angelou, Whitman…the flattery of being copied in style is ne’er sufficient when it fails.
I commend her intentions, which could have served her better than this shadow of past Greatness .
That said I could not have done better and wish Elizabeth growth and prosperity.

January 20, 2009 at 6:58 pm
(12) ben says:

Praise song for the day

I enjoyed this poem after reflecting upon the words. My interpretation…

It begins with a universal description of everyday life which is often disjointed (“All about us is noise”)
but ends with a proposition (“What if the mightiest word is love”) which may be the inspiration that unites us.

Representative of this disunity is when we see others’ language (“each one of our ancestors on our tongues”)
as “noise,” while the possibility of repairing that breach is represented by everyday acts of repair (“stitching up a hem…”) and the universality of making music (“Someone is trying to make music somewhere with…”).

The possibility of coming together as a people in spite of our differences (especially political) is expressed in terms of our words (“spiny or smooth…words to consider, reconsider”). From will to words to
concrete results (e.g., highways), we interact with each other–past and present. The boundary of a highway
may inspire someone today to go further and see what else is possible (““I need to see what’s on the other side”).

At the same time that we fear the uncertainties of the future (which also divides us), we can envision it in terms of its possibilities (“We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see”)

Also we should honor the sacrifices of poor,immigrant laborers of the past who made our present reality possible as well as the modern immigrant laborers who continue to do the essential maintenance on that reality.

(“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”)

The resolution of conflicts between people has many routes. For families it may be “figuring it out at kitchen tables” while other conflicts require political movements, struggle, and protest. This poem is
a song of praise for such peaceful resolutions and for this historical inaugural day which would not have been possible without the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

The religious belief systems of different peoples that allow us to get along with other peoples differ in degree. The poem posits an even stronger concept of love that goes beyond “Love thy neighbor as thy self”,
and even beyond “marital, filial, national.” Some believe the way to unity is to avoid being selfish, not hurting others, and treating others as you would your compatriots, your kin, or your self. This poem
suggests there is a love that extends beyond those whom we are familiar with to include “a widening pool of light.”

I’m not really sure what Alexander means by “a love with no need to preempt grievance.” In
practical terms, treating others with love would involve redressing past wrongs. Is she suggesting there is a way to treat others that would always avoid the conflict in the first place? This seems beyond human nature.

Finally, in relation to the present day, there is a sense of the immense possibilities (“anything can be made, any sentence begun”). This is embodied in words that may inspire others to action that may bring such a love closer toward reality. From disunity (“walking past each other”) to blindly “walk[ing] into that which we cannot yet see,” this poem now suggests the alternative of “walking forward in that light” guided by a new vision of a love that may unite us.

January 20, 2009 at 7:08 pm
(13) brad says:

it was written with good intention but her delivery completely sucked. Honestly one of Obamas daughters could have done a better job.

January 20, 2009 at 8:57 pm
(14) Devin says:

I am aware of how difficult occasional poetry is- but this was just a BOMB! At the very least, the delivery could have been better. This poem was just too important to be such a letdown. :-( Contemporary American poetry has so much more to offer.

January 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm
(15) Alex Delano says:

Plain and simple -

The “poem” was a pretentious, rambling, rant of words. It sucked mightily.

Poems can be lyrical, mystical and inspirational. Cadence and rhythm can create moods.

Given the nature of the venue, the poem could have elevated the event. Instead, it will be forgotten, and quickly.

January 20, 2009 at 9:46 pm
(16) LK says:

This thing was awful. Sounded like a 60s coffee house. Can anyone say no?

January 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm
(17) Susan Lollis says:

I want to thank you for posting “Praise Song for the Day”. My heart was so full and quiet while Elizabeth Alexander recited her work. I held my breath. I want to read it out loud again and again and then give it to others so they might also so the same.

January 20, 2009 at 11:37 pm
(18) Thin says:

I feel sorry for the poet. Bad luck going after main event. Then a very over wrought poem. We started making fun of it right away.

Waiting for the bus
A yellow bus
A noisy bus
……..

January 21, 2009 at 12:45 am
(19) uugh says:

I find it amazing that she is a poetry professor at Yale University. I guess that is what living in an ivory tower produces. I can think of another repair that needs repairing.

January 21, 2009 at 2:55 am
(20) Paul Zinaka says:

Stirring? Nothing could be further from the truth! I don’t think there’s any doubt about the sincerity of intention. What ruined it was the presentation style. I kept thinking,
‘Is the idea to get through to the simplest listener?’. To suggest that purity of intention overrides every consideration is to miss the whole idea of poetry. What is poetry if we ignore presentation style and tone? It’s like listening to a discordant guitar. I’m disappointed but I forgive Elizabeth because I’m sure she meant well.

January 21, 2009 at 6:24 am
(21) HeartWarrior says:

Am glad that I’m not alone in being utterly underwhelmed by that poem. From structure to delivery, it was cloudy, vague, no clear direction until towards the end-ish. I was looking at my mates thinking, ‘is this really worthy?’ and when she finished, I couldn’t help thinking that that’s just Obama’s style – a bit bland but doable. Maybe bland was the goal?…

January 21, 2009 at 8:30 am
(22) allyouneedislove says:

I, too, am relieved to hear that others who appreciate literature and poetry (and don’t just ridicule poetry for the sake of ridiculing poetry!) were disappointed by Alexander’s poem. Graywolf should save its money and forego publishing it. This poem is just not “literary.” It falls instead under the category of sentimentalism.

Fraught with cliches and clunky prose, the travesty of the poem is that not one student in either of my children’s high school classes found anything valuable, or even inspirational, about the poem. What a tragedy. Poetry finally gets the attention of millions of Americans–a chance to convert some to seeing its value–and instead, more people were turned off by what they see as the lack of poetry in contemporary poetry. Lines like, “We walk into that which we cannot yet see” just kill the poem. And “The figuring it out at kitchen tables” or “What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national . . . . Love with no need to preempt grievance.” “Preempt”? Heavens.

She could’ve broken out in song at the end, “All you need is love, love,” and that would’ve provided the exact same message in a more poetic style. Make it new. Isn’t that what poetry’s supposed to do?

Like the others who posted here, I have no doubt that Alexander was well intentioned. I just think she fell victim to sentimentalism because she didn’t have enough time to do the kinds of revisions I’m sure even now, she’d like to be able to do. (It also may provide a powerful lesson about political bias in poetry.) That doesn’t mean Alexander’s not a great poet; certainly, she is. It’s just a shame that many will judge her, and contemporary poetry itself, by this one poem. The community of poets would do well to distance itself from the lack of literary quality in this poem while still embracing Alexander as a great poet. Even great poets have bad days.

January 21, 2009 at 9:06 am
(23) Phil says:

I really disliked this poem. It’s worthless in content, with hardly any meaning and very poor structure. The only value contained therein are the references to love, but at the same time the author makes no attempt at describing truly how to love; what actions we should take. I consider true love to be a verb, not a noun.

January 21, 2009 at 9:07 am
(24) Chet says:

Hey Guys, ya’ll are scaring me. If this had been a middle school student who had won a contest, I might have been more forgiving. This is a Yale professor and this is the US Presidential Innauguration. I almost feel like “The Emperor’s Clothes.”

January 21, 2009 at 10:38 am
(25) Karen Darby says:

I was briefly an English teacher, longer a lawyer. Now that I’ve read some interpretations of the poem, I see what she was trying to do. However, her delivery ruined whatever good was in there.

In my opinion, the best line all morning was spoken by Rev. Lowry, who had the help of Micah 6:8: Let those who do justice and love mercy say, AMEN!

January 21, 2009 at 11:01 am
(26) Stewart Scham says:

It lacked every requirement of being a poem-no rhyme, no rhythym, no beauty. no cohesion

January 21, 2009 at 11:32 am
(27) Daniel says:

I’m with those questioning the description of the poem as “stirring.” I thought it was quite the opposite (as I blogged). Yes, she had a tall order, but since when do we poets want to have excuses made for us, as if we are held to a lower standard than orators?

January 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm
(28) Paul Brown says:

I liked the poem, and I didn’t understand her delivery at first, but now that I’ve watched it a few times, I think she’s really brilliant.

January 21, 2009 at 1:27 pm
(29) Louise DeSantis Deutsch says:

Thank you for publishing the poem so promptly.
I’m amazed that critical comment can be so vitriolic so soon.

January 21, 2009 at 2:22 pm
(30) John says:

I was disappointed by delivery as well. I don’t know what she was attempting to do, but the majority of it sounded like she was trying to present the poem to a group of mentally challenged 3rd graders.
As to the poem itself, it is hard to critisize or praise something that is a matter of individual taste. Some will like it, some will not. I would have been much more impressed with a pithy haiku.

January 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm
(31) Angela Jones says:

“Praise Song for the Day” is an embarrassment. If this bland, soulless nonsense is what we call great American poetry, I may still have to move to Canada even though Obama is in office.

January 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm
(32) pamela123 says:

I like the poem much better now that it’s been published in its “shaped” tercet form. I still don’t think it’s a masterwork, though.

January 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm
(33) tsquared says:

Her poem highlights the basic daily stuff people do and how our common labors contribute to the far-reaching ideals of our nation. By the way, these are the same people who got Obama elected and on whose shoulders Obama stands. Dig the Civil Rights Movement allusions in there. Plus it’s a new start for America sitting in front of a fresh, clean page with a pencil in our hand. Sounds exhilarating to me!

Chill out people. I prayed for Jimmy Santiago Baca (I guess him getting picked for the West Wing inaugural was enough) or Naomi Shihab Nye, but that’s just me. Naomi Nye likely would have written a similar poem, but I dig her style more. Whatever, though. I liked Alexander’s poem, but it’s a free country (once more).

I’m glad she realized that no one can compete with Obama so it’s just better to do your thing and be yourself. I think if she had tried to jazz up the delivery, it would have looked painfully forced. I respect her for sticking to what got her there.

January 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm
(34) John says:

I watched the inauguration more out of duty than desire. For me, the poem was the only highlight. I found it swelled my heart with its plainness and power.

January 22, 2009 at 8:07 am
(35) val says:

For this incredible moment in the nation’s history Alexander’s inaugural poem was spot-on, poignant, perfectly delivered, and positively impressive. I thank her for brilliantly and appropriately honoring the occasion.

January 22, 2009 at 9:24 am
(36) ChangwaSteve says:

You know, I came here to make fun of Alexander,
but her poem is sort of OK now that I see it written down. Too bad yesterday’s delivery sounded like william shatner reciting a maya angelou poem while trying to pass hard stool.

January 22, 2009 at 9:37 am
(37) ChangwaSteve says:

Actually wait, I just read it again and- yep, the poem sucks.

January 22, 2009 at 10:14 am
(38) Mark says:

I am truly impressed by the outpouring of criticism for “Praise Song for the Day.” I am no poet, nor am I a poetry critic, but I didn’t think it was bad.

Let me qualify that – the delivery was bad. At first, I assumed there was something deliberate in Alexander’s woodenness, but I quickly decided that she was just nervous. Which is understandable, given the circumstances.

I felt like the poem itself used plain speech to render images of plain life, to unify, and to capture the sense of the possibility of the occasion. No, I wasn’t bowled over by it, and I didn’t think it a masterwork. But I thought it was good.

January 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm
(39) tongj says:

I know it wasn’t necessarily the perfect poem in terms of what I or others may have expected, but I have to say that it was the one part of the whole inaugural ceremony that brought me to tears.

The whole ceremony was very moving for all the obvious reasons, but the reading of the poem was the only part that actually moved me to tears, and this was as a high school teacher who had less than an hour earlier told students to pick up their pencils and begin their final exams…

I’m not sure what was so moving, except that to me it captured so beautifully the spirit of the country at that very moment — the noise and bustle of people going about their business, the many ways we are trying to repair our country and our lives, the power of words on that bright winter day. And perhaps most of all the invocation of love as a widening pool of light that we were being invited to walk forward into toward a future yet unseen. Perhaps this sounded trite to those with more sophisticated tastes, but it genuinely touched my heart. It was a praise song for the day in the truest sense, delivered with clarity and purity.

I am thankful for this beautiful gift to all of us. It is one I will remember well beyond this day.

January 22, 2009 at 7:59 pm
(40) ben says:

Judging from all the critics on this board, I assume everyone actually read the poem and thought about it for awhile–or perhaps they just didn’t like the reading and assumed the poem had no substance because “the meaning” did not jump out and bite them like Lowerey’s colorful ditty.

If you think there’s nothing there, try reading it again–seriously. And if you’re a teacher and you’re students can’t interpret this poem, whose fault is that!?

Yes, the poem is disjointed, but ask yourself what common ideas are carried throughout. Ask yourself what might “love with no need to preempt grievance” mean (rather than exclaiming ambiguously about it). You have to read it over once to gain a perspective from which to read it a second time–at least.

Poetry is compact speech so sometimes “trivial” details are important. You can’t simply ignore what you didn’t get from skimming it once. And if you can’t make sense of something, there may be intentional ambiguity or a question rather than an answer. This is what makes poetry challenging and, I think, enjoyable.

If you say, “Hey, it’s not worth my time–this is meaningless crap,” then at least recognize that is a statement about your own interests and priorities than a critique of the poem itself. I’m not saying all poetry is meaningful, but if you haven’t at least tried to parse the poem (as I attempted above in #12), then you haven’t really read it.

January 22, 2009 at 8:05 pm
(41) Tim Donahey says:

Sounded like the sequel to “See Spot Run” to me.

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

Indeed so, but I’d rather this one hadn’t. The only sharp sparkle I noticed were the beginnings of a migraine. At least it was short.

January 22, 2009 at 9:43 pm
(42) edificial says:

To hear it was painful. To read it, much less so. She was probably nervous.

January 23, 2009 at 6:52 am
(43) Doug Knowlton says:

Very sad. Yes. What an envigorating thread of comments, though! I liked all the differences, but much like the discussion in our bookshop’s writers group last night, the consensus is clear. In fact, one of these fledgling, off the street writers in the group could have stirred us more deeply. She does present well in interviews and discussions, could be an excellent teacher. Do you think Elizabeth was set up? I mean look, how many of you actually write poetry? She was asked a mere, what, three weeks ago? In my opinion, that was not enough time to prepare for such a momentous event. I liked the solid critiques of the poem above, but some verge on the ad hominem attack. Let’s cut her some slack. I hope you all find your own stirring inaugural poem today.

January 23, 2009 at 10:22 am
(44) mayimuna says:

have you seen this poem of rejoicing on youtube?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvZ1AaZOnQo

January 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm
(45) Crystal says:

I agree with Ben for the most part, that was a wonderful interpretation. In the end he asks if Elizabeth Alexander is suggesting a way to treat others that would always avoid the conflict in the first place. I believe what Elizabeth Alexander means by, “love with no need to preempt grievance,” is that we should be able to criticize yet love one another. I particularly like the part “I know there’s something better down the road” because a barrier has been broken and now nothing seems impossible. President Barack Obama is and should be an inspiration to us all.

January 23, 2009 at 6:17 pm
(46) sydney says:

Although I thought the delivery was lacking (I can’t imagine having to follow Obama in this situation–impossible), I thought the poem was terrific. Just right for a country and a global community that are feeling worn and beaten down, and desperate to sense a small measure of hope in our day-to-day lives. How lovely.

January 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm
(47) L says:

I loved the poem. I’m an artist and a teacher, and sometimes it feels as if what I do is so small in the larger scheme of things. The lines:

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

reminds me that the small acts that we all perform everyday make up the fabric of who we are as a community, as a nation, as humankind.

It was a perfect reminder of how Barack Obama got elected, by the cumulation of countless acts of hope, faith and just plain pounding the pavement.

It brought tears to my eyes.

January 24, 2009 at 7:44 pm
(48) Nan C. says:

Interesting to read how many people disliked this poem. I LIKED IT and thought Ms. Alexander’s delivery was fine! I understand that she was somewhat overcome that Obama asked her in the first place. Please give the girl a break! How could anyone, especially a poet (with the possible exception of Maya angelou), have expected to be called upon to perform before about 2,000,000 people in 27 degrees Farenheit, and probably on rather short order?

January 25, 2009 at 11:37 am
(49) cperera says:

The poem failed to capture the historical nature of the moment. It was rather sophmoric and ordinary. There was no passion, no fire, or even truth. Just saying the obvious. The poet is an acadamic, idoelogical and throughly boring! Go out to the real world and get down and dirty! Then you can write good poetry! Leave your pompous African Studies at your Ivory Tower and go be a farmer or factory worker. Then you’ll write good poetry.

January 25, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(50) unsunghero says:

That was the worst poem I have ever heard. Elizabeth Alexander was just trying to mimic Maya Angelou’s poem for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and she failed miserably. This can’t even be called a poem. I am truly regretful that such an attrocity had to be associated with such a historic moment. And that’s the problem: an audience reading this out of historic context would cast this aside as completely nonsensical.

January 25, 2009 at 7:37 pm
(51) doug says:

Oh…My…God! Ms. alexander certainly has a keen eye for the obvious.

If one of my sophomore students had handed in that pathetic “poem”, he’d get a “C” at best, along with benefit of the doubt he had not understood the assignment.

What a load of pretentious crap masquerading as “art”…

Embarassing!

January 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm
(52) Angry White Dude says:

I have to laugh! What a load of garbage. What could one expect from a professor of African Studies (whatever that is!). Anyone who thinks this is poetry has never studied poetry! Maybe she should have rapped instead!

January 26, 2009 at 10:25 am
(53) Sean Hoffman says:

I liked her poem about the man in her boat better. You may be able to google it, but it said something about a very large man being in her boat. Also, that on one expedition three of her girlfriends rode in the boat, all rubbing against the man. They ended up hot and sweaty, somehow smelling of rotten fish.

January 26, 2009 at 10:40 am
(54) Carl Moore says:

Shelley once said: “The poet’s mission is to create new materials of knowledge, power and pleasure, and to arrange them in a certain order and rhythm which might be called the beautiful and the good.”

For me, a few thousand miles away in sunny Barbados, Ms. Alexander did all the above. Sometimes simplicity can be the most powerful experience. I commend the lady. Haven’t we had a surfeit of the Angelous (bless her) of this world?

Carl Moore
Barbados

January 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm
(55) Critic says:

As Andy Hamilton observed on the BBC’s “The News Quiz”, “She took full advantage of the fact that she was speaking behind bullet-proof glass.”
I wouldn’t go that far, but let’s face it, the delivery was just terrible.

January 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm
(56) Annie says:

Thanks to all those who, like Ben, just opened their ears and eyes and let Mrs Alexander’s message of love touch their hearts
without expecting anything else than what was offered. Yes, we want ‘love with no need to preempt grievance’, love with no need to fight for it but, instead, the feminine attitude of openness towards things whether they be good or bad, not exclusive love but inclusive love… Thank you Mrs Alexander for simply being yourself. Et bravo à l’Amérique pour cette élection !

January 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm
(57) Jagadeesan says:

I was amazed that this fancy academic could write so simply and plainly. She cared little for what her peers thought—the first sign of a true artist. In previous, more cynical times, which this poem asks me to believe are drawing to a close, using the word “love” was sticking ones neck out. I understood then, this was going to be a magical day.

The poem fit perfectly with Obama’s speech, which was also, thankfully, lacking in rhetorical froofroo. Not a single “Ask not what your country can do for you…” anywhere on the horizon!

Hooray! We really are at a new beginning.

January 28, 2009 at 4:08 pm
(58) Not Buying This Nonsense says:

Ms. Alexander’s inaugural “poem” was terrible and her robotic reading of it was positively HIDEOUS. I read it on paper and heard it twice, and each time it sounded worse. I’ve heard better and far more imaginative verse from 8th graders. There’s no way this woman should have been allowed on a world stage reading that stilted, academic nonsense. (And she’s a professor at Yale??? I’ve always believed the Ivy League was an elitist sham, and this just confirms it.) My sympathies to all who were stuck in the freezing cold on the Mall last week listening to that hot mess. And now, in homage to the atrocious rhythm of Ms. Alexander’s poem, I close with a line of my own:

“Praise.Song.For.The.Mute.But-ton.”

February 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm
(59) Joe says:

I have to admit that reading it myself, textually, had more of an impact on the meaning that when it was read at the inauguration… beautifully meaningful and very significant in a time that our love needs to shine in the world

February 11, 2009 at 8:42 am
(60) Thatruth23 says:

This poem proves that it’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it.

February 11, 2009 at 11:21 pm
(61) Kara says:

I can’t believe all these comments about how bad it was! I think its very very good! Each word was chosen for a purpose and it was not just stuck together over night. She uses all kinds of literary devices that you would never notice until you look for them and that is what makes a great poem!!!!! You can’t just read it once, you have to read it over again and again to truly understand the full meaning behind it. It does go into depth and it comes from the heart. I really like this poem because it tells a story and is inspirational. I’m sorry that not many people could enjoy the strength behind it.

February 12, 2009 at 4:06 pm
(62) TLeo says:

To the ‘Praise Song’ apologists:

This isn’t a football game, the NBA Finals or a criminal court case. In other words, a good poem does *NOT* need any defense. The very fact that you feel compelled to explain what “Praise Song for the Day” is and isn’t about, and how it should and shouldn’t be read, tells just how terrible it is. A good poem can stand on its own strength and *SPEAK FOR ITSELF* without a second, third, fourth or fifth person trying to explicate it and convince other people how wrong they are for not understanding or liking it. Good poetry is like water or sunlight: As soon as you see it, you know it for what it is. No explanations or excuses are necessary.

Sorry, folks, but the emperor has no clothes. “Praise Song…” is tepid and mediocre at best, and Elizabeth Alexander’s monotone reading was cringe-inducing awful. With its wooden spoons and boom box, harmonicas, oil drums, pencils, lettuce and kitchen tables, “Praise Song…” should have been read at a swap meet or a farmer’s market. But it had no business being read at a Presidential Inauguration.

February 13, 2009 at 6:23 pm
(63) Lola says:

So her delivery wasn’t perfect but she was in front of a million people and probably doesn’t do that every day. I think that her delivery of her poem added to the meaning behind it.

I don’t think it’s fair to call her poem just a bunch of rambling, I don’t think that you can set limits to poetry. Poetry is an art form and in every art class I’ve been in where we were asked “What is art?” nobody had an answer. Poems don’t always have to be dressed up with metaphors. This particular poem was simple and told a story. It was powerful and beautiful.

February 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm
(64) Michael says:

This poem was typical of the modern university educated politically liberal poet.

Apparently, we are expected to accept regurgitated ideas, rhythms and images from the great poets of the past as though they are something wonderful and new. Well, they were wonderful when they were original and when their poetic execution made sense. Now, this Alexander woman has made a hash of it. This is an embarrassment for America.

I have spent a lot of time in different colleges and universities in recent years and I have seen this crap everywhere. One of these days we are going to have to wake up and see that a person who is able to string words together is not a writer or a poet. A person who memorizes the days lesson and graduates at the top of their class because they are the best at regurgitating is not a genius.

It takes both creative discipline and genius to be a poet.

Elizabeth Alexander has neither!

February 24, 2009 at 5:12 am
(65) skip towne says:

I haven’t been able to get the first two words, “praise song” off my mind. This sounds like silly telegraphic speech to me. Suddenly I remembered where I’ve heard something similar before. It’s on an old Ike and Tina Turner album, and Tina is chatting to the audience, announcing her duet with, I think, Vanetta Fields. Tina says, telegraphically, “She and I will do a battle between song ‘I know’.”

February 26, 2009 at 1:05 am
(66) ben says:

What a silly notion–that poetry can’t be discussed or interpreted. To say that good poetry is obvious and speaks for itself suggests that there is one obvious interpretation. So why are there so many religious factions with their own understanding of one particular poetic book?

June 9, 2009 at 7:00 am
(67) Dr Matthew M Schiffmann says:

I know I’m old-fashioned and possibly misguided, but somewhere in my study of languages I came to the distinct conclusion that POETRY has certain features that distinguish it from “ordinary” prose. Firstly is the quality of METER, that is, a structured arrangement of stressed syllables per line, and usually a struture to the arrangement, length and character of lines within larger units as well, and usually structure to the coordination of those larger “stanzas” too.
Also very common in POERTY is the quality of RHYME, that stressed syllables within lines match in phonemes the stresses in complimentary and/or contrasting places in other lines– in juveinle POETRY this is most often the end syllables, you all know the dreadful rhymed couplets.
This drudgery isn’t even That remarkable– putting her ideas, regardless of how noble the ideas themselves are, into this slop is not POETRY. It hasn’t a single characteristic of a “POEM” to be found in it. Again perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I still hold the opinion that it takes mastery of LANGUAGE, that is training, insight and yes real TALENT to create POETRY. I’m sorry but you can write all the “free-form” crap you want, this rubbish included, and call it what you want.
But a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet… and by the same token, a rose which has no petals, no leaves, no stem, no thorns and no scent is a mythic Rose indeed.
And you can call this “opus” whatever you like as well, but POETRY it is not.

October 8, 2009 at 6:21 pm
(68) Envy says:

You guys are being unreasonably harsh. To say the delivery was awful is valid — but to say that this is so awful that you can’t call it poetry at all is quite conceited. Who are you to say what poetry is?

Regardless, I wasn’t impressed by the poem either. That said, it’s not nearly as bad as everyone is making it out to be. There are lines that are quite poetic, such as “In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun.” Sure, it is simple diction, but it is clear and not hackneyed in the least. Other lines however, like “What if the mightiest word is love?” are truly mediocre and cliche as pointed out.

That said, the entire poem is not utterly repugnant. Let’s be fair and say that it was definitely sub-par.

October 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm
(69) voice22 says:

“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.”

Such a beautiful, simple tribute to the common, every day lives of African Americans. So many people struggled, not only in the epic battles waged for civil rights, but also for the right to experience the simple, every day moments that make up life. The teacher, the mother the worker as hero in this long struggle for civil rights. I am not surprised that many european americans are baffled by this poem. Most european americans have no clue as to the weight of suffering carried by blacks in the united states.

a truly fantastic poem. Thank you.

October 7, 2010 at 11:19 am
(70) wogpy says:

People of the world might think that this poem was great. I like Jesus Christ of Nazareth am not of this world and I though the poem was stupid and meaningless unless there is some kind of backward masking that gives it some Demonic or Satanic meaning. I have not determined it yet. You spiritually blind people will never see the light of the true God unless you accept Jesus Christ as your savior and Lord. Please note I did not say God. I said lord. There is a difference

April 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm
(71) Ernie Raskauskas says:

A tour de force which made me envious that I can’t write anything this powerful. Read it several times before judging. To me it captures the soul and spirit of contemporary America with an acknowedgement that what we have came at a price.

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