I Hear America Singing: Poet Elizabeth Alexander at the Obama Inauguration

alexander.jpgThe poet Elizabeth Alexander has been chosen to write and read a new poem to be presented at the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20th, 2009 in Washington D.C.. This will be only the fourth time in history that an American poet has been chosen to make an address at a Presidential Inauguration.  At 46, Ms Alexander is a prize-winning poet (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) and professor of African American studies at Yale University.

“I am obviously profoundly honored and thrilled,” she said. “Not only to have a chance to have some small part of this extraordinary moment in American history. . . . This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power, that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference and that words have tremendous possibilities, and those possibilities are not empty.”full article: The Washington Post

Listen to the Poetry Foundation interview with Elizabeth Alexander on how the Derek Walcott-toting, June Jordan-quoting president will affect poets and poetry – podcast at: Obamapoetics at the National Poetry Foundation.

“Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.

President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward. And as his campaign was a movement much larger than the man himself, I understand that as a country we stand poised to make tremendous choices about our collective future. The distillation of language in poetry, its precision, can help us see sharply in the midst of many conundrums.

This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in.

This is only the fourth time in our history that a President has featured a poet at his inaugural. I hope that this portends well for the future of the arts in our everyday and civic life.”

Elizabeth Alexander
December 2008

Past Poet’s who have Read at a Presidential Inauguration:

In addition, James Dickey read ”The Strength of Fields” at Jimmy Carter’s January 19, 1977 inaugural gala at the Kennedy Center.

Source: Library of Congress, FAQ

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