Thursday, December 18, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander to read at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander has been chosen to read at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, which seems like a pretty sweet gig. Though probably also a stressful one. She was interviewed today on NPR's All Things Considered by Melissa Block. You can listen to the segment online as well as listen to two of Alexander's poems, including "Autumn Passage," which is below.

What would a presidential inauguration be without poetry? Actually, I have no idea because I've never really paid attention to inaugurations before. But according to The Guardian UK: "[Alexander] will be only the fourth poet to have read at a presidential inauguration. A tradition eschewed by current incumbent George W Bush, Bill Clinton invited poets to both of his inaugurations, with Miller Williams reading in 1997, and Maya Angelou in 1993. The only other poet to have read at an inauguration was Robert Frost, who recited 'The Gift Outright' for John F Kennedy in 1961."

I remember when Maya Angelou read at Bill Clinton's inauguration and how the poem she read was printed in little books that people actually bought. Unfortunately, it also turned out that Maya Angelou is kind of a crappy poet. Still, it seemed for a nano second there that folks actually cared about poetry. And that was pretty awesome. I have zero recollection of Miller Williams. And I am not surprised that Bush didn't have any poets as his inauguration as it doesn't seem like poets like him much anyway.

Autumn Passage

On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.

On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.

On the dazzling toddler:
“Like eggplant,” he says,
when you say “Vegetable,”

“Chrysanthemum” to “Flower.”
On his grandmother’s suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,

September zucchini,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,

glory of grown children’s vigil.
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates

even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns

florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.

(Elizabeth Alexander, from American Sublime, Graywolf Press 2005.

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