Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural poetry

I watched Obama's inauguration today and I'm not ashamed to say that I got all choked up and cried. It was Aretha Franklin's rendition of "America" that started it all. At first I thought, "Damn, Aretha, you aren't sounding very good these days." I mean, the fact that she broke the word "country" into two very separate words didn't help. But then she just took it. And owned that song. And it was a beautiful thing.

As was Obama's speech. Inspiring stuff. I am hopeful for the future of our country, even though things are so, so messed up right now. This country needs a leader who isn't afraid of that and who cares more about the people than himself and his cronies. I will not miss Bush, to say the least (he's a world class dickhead. Sorry. I wasn't content with saying the least).

After Obama, poet Elizabeth Alexander read her poem "Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration." I have to say that I don't envy her having to follow his speech. But I was filled with pride (yes, I said it) watching a poet take the podium today.

I've already heard plenty of criticism of her poem (reading the comments on YouTube is a real downer, talking to MFA-wielding poets is another), but I liked it. No, I loved it. Granted, I did not like the way she read it. I don't understand why so many poets read their work as if it is composed of a foreign language they are just getting the grasp of. But I thought it was the right poem from the right poet for the occasion. I was talking to some folks tonight and someone said they felt it was too prescriptive; that it followed too closely Obama's own speech. Others said the images and the language were too plain. Personally I think both of these things reflect an awareness of the poem's audience and fit in perfectly with the tone of the event. In any case, I wasn't concerned with all of that. I never felt I was there to be a critic. I was there to be moved. And I was moved by it. When thinking about what poetry is for, I think Alexander's poem this afternoon is a prime example.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so sweet of you and yet it makes me question every nice thing you've ever said about my poetry.