Praise Song by Elizabeth Alexander

American History News Poetry Spoken Word


It can't be easy for a poet to follow President Barack Obama's inaugural speech, but I thought Elizabeth Alexander delivered the goods.

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.

The 'praise song' is a spiritual tradition with roots in both contemporary Christian worship music and spoken-word poetry (I heard my first 'praise poems' from Bob Holman at the Bowery Poetry Club). It seems to be a good fit for the mood of this day.

I wonder if younger people (like my own children) who watched this celebration can fully understand how different this inauguration was from any that has come before. It's hard to say whether the joyous, almost Woodstock-like mood is more about Barack Obama's arrival or about George W. Bush's exit. Either way, the phrase "win-win" seems to fit. Praise for the day, indeed.
30 Responses to "Praise Song by Elizabeth Alexander"

by PCT on

"the poem was junk" by PCT
alone each day, diapers. dishes, talk-show drivel
isolated, brain evaporating
praise for a day to join the world
a mother curious with anticipation
shushing little voices unaware
listening with her ears and mind
brows furrowed
what is she trying to say?
little pictures devoid of emotion
in the light? out of the light? "All must go to the light"
is this what passes for literature?
Is this what passes for intellect and art?
"sunny days, chasing the clouds away................"

by Cal Godot on

If she had put another cliché in that "poem," she could have been cited for carrying a load too large for her vehicle. For such a historic and singular occasion, one would hope the poet could summon better images than a TV commercial extolling the family-values virtues of long distance telephone calls. Her recitation was deplorable, her enunciation and emphasis resembling parody more than prosody. I'm appalled by the clear lack of effort on her part, as well as the apparent mediocrity of the poet, the poem and the performance.

Here's hoping the next four years of Obama's Presidency are better than the first few minutes.

by Levi Asher on

Hah! Maybe you both have a point. I think I'm in a forgiving mood today, though.

Also, honestly, it's probably hard to be authentic when you're reading an inaugural poem with the entire world watching.

by Mickey Z. on

Working so hard, so damn hard to restrain myself...

by Levi Asher on

If you have anything new to say, Mickey, spill it!

by Mickey Z. on

Anything "new"?

by Levi Asher on

Yeah, anything "new".

by Jason on

I thought the poem was a joke. She definitely dropped the ball. The preacher who went on after her was much more poetic.

by Duncan Brown on

I thought the poem was adequate, and that the poet was wonderful.
Its a no win situation for a poet.everyones there for the politics and the 'historic moment' literature is a sideshow on the day.
Perhaps we should have an 'Inaugaral Poem' on the blog, and then, all those without sin, and iambic pentameters can cast aspersions.

by Mickey Z. on

Why is Obama known as charismatic and eloquent? His speech was mundane, filled with bland, meaningless language, and offered not even a hint of hope or change. His message - as it were - is generic US politics as usual. He is fiddling while the planet burns (see next post).

by Mickey Z. on

While millions worship at the feet of the Pope of Hope as he asks us to step up and make a difference, the real criminals are let off the hook...the ones who have created this:

10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US every second. We’re losing 200,000 acres of rain forest every 24 hours. 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used by Americans each year. 100 plant or animal species go extinct each day. 81 tons of mercury are emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation. Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. 13 million tons of toxic chemicals released across the globe each and every day. 70,000 new chemical compounds have been invented and dispersed into our environment since 1950. There will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park by 2030. The Artic region expected to have its first completely ice-free summer in 2040. Coastal glaciers in Greenland thinning by 3 feet per year. 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone. 80% of the world’s forest are already gone. Every two seconds, a human being starves to death and 29,158 children under the age of five die from preventable causes every single day.

The US Dept. of Defense is the world's top polluter but all Lord Obama has for us is effusive praise for those who volunteer to be paid to wage illegal and immoral American wars.

by Mickey Z. on

More change and hope:

"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

by Mickey Z. on

Should Dubya sue for plagiarism?

(Sorry, Levi...I'll stop spamming now)

by Rick Dale on

I have to say that the poem and the delivery were both mediocre at best.

by Caryn on

Two things -- that poem was really terrible but even worse, it was very telling how the poetry came after any hope of remaining interest and attention had surely passed. Save it for the coffeehouse, Alexander.

by Duncan Brown on

"10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US every second"
That's a relief,otherwise we would all be struggling through another ice age.
It would appear that the 'New Cold War' is going to be an internal affair. Can't wait...

by Syd on

I liked the actual poem, the delivery was lackluster. Too many pauses. Pauses she didn't write into the poem grammatically.

But the words still moved me. "In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

I love poetry, but I am no expert.

by Levi Asher on

I thought the point of the poem was to be inclusive, and it served that purpose. Yeah, it wasn't "Leaves of Grass".

Mickey, I thought Obama's speech was trying to be inclusive (of mainstream American political belief) as well. He clearly intends to lead from the center. You were expecting the Communist Manifesto?

by Mickey Z. on

You're being snide, Levi. He's a garden variety politician and will follow the same blueprints as every other president. I point out the hypocrisy only because his handlers have managed to convince a big chunk of humanity that Obama is somehow different.

by Levi Asher on

He may turn out to be a garden variety President, Mickey. Time will tell. But isn't garden variety better than a poisonous weed, such as the one who's been oppressing us for the past 8 years?

Speaking of which, didn't you at least appreciate the moment when Obama quoted biblical verse ("time to put away childish things") as a critique of Bush's administration, and Bush had to sit there and take it?

Personally, I thought The Most Holy Reverend Rick was terrible, not just because of the whole gay marriage thing and "everyone else is going to hell" philosophy/theology/theogony, but he really was a bad speaker, what bumbling plattitudes! If I have to get fire and brimstone and that ole' thyme religion, then let it be from someone like Jonathan Edwards (the 18th century one), God holding us like spiders over a fire, now that's an image!

by Mickey Z. on

Bush wasn't childish. He was the figurehead of a voracious American Empire. Now, Obama will play that role,

The poem and reading by Alexander were dismal. It's poetry's problem in this age: academic. It's all academic. It's all professors of this or that earning a nice living while meddling with words. Poets don't teach. They destroy.

Alexander was blown cleanly off the podium by Joseph Lowery's benediction. That guy knows how to write and how to read.

The poem and reading by Elizabeth Alexander were dismal. It's poetry's problem in this age: academic. It's all academic. It's all professors of this or that earning a nice living while meddling with words. Poets don't teach. They destroy.

Alexander was blown cleanly off the podium by Joseph Lowery's benediction. That guy knows how to write and how to read.

by Duncan Brown on

I was impressed by the 'low key' approach. Most of the difficult and unpopular stuff will come first.
The speech was based more on reality, than chimera.
Obama's hardly likely to be Hamlet, for another couple of years.
Dubya was more 'The Scottish Play'
"A tale told by an idiot"
Dick Cheney was the Richelieu figure, in a wheelchair....
"All the worlds a stage..."

by Zach on

Frost & Poe have been considered by many the greatest American poets. With that being said is it really suprising that the poet & poem chosen for the event was mediocre at best?

by Duncan Brown on

Frost and Poe, I dunno. More likely, Whitman, Emerson and Dickinson.

by John Robinson on

I second that Joseph Lowry had all of the more poetic moments of the day.

by stevadore on

I have to agree with Mickey Z. We are simply witnessing another figurehead as we do every 4 or 8 years, depending who is fixing the elections. The real crooks running the machine here and everywhere else are the bankers - the International Monetary Fund and the US Federal Reserve. Do your research and figure out for yourself what they are up to - some scary shit!

by Duncan Brown on

A new figure. a new head every four years, sounds like Futarama. There's me thinking it was the Simpsons.
Next you;ll be telling us 'they' fixed the wooden horse race.
Homer, what a waste of a classical education.

Add new comment