Inaugural Poetry

Watching the Presidential Inauguration yesterday, one thing stood out in my mind more than anything else: Damn it was cold out there. Michelle Obama made sure she looked fashionable while at the same time keeping warm. The second thing that stood out in my mind was that Obama’s speech seemed sub par to me, although at the same time he has appeared to raise the standard. All in all, at least from CNN’s telecast, I felt like the Inauguration was one I could have missed, with one exception. The poem.

I thought the poem was great, it was my favorite part of the ceremony. A little long perhaps, but that may have only crossed my mind because everyone was freezing. I felt like it did all the right things. It connected with the audience, had a strong sense of emotion and touched on aspects of Obama’s campaign message. The poet, Richard Blanco, was significant in that he was the first Hispanic, first LGBT and youngest poet to present at a Presidential Inauguration. He brought his own personal struggles into the poem and made the universal.

I am not so sure I can say that about the Elizabeth Alexander, the poet four years ago. I forgot the poem fifteen minutes after i heard it. I was forgetting it while it was still being read. Four years ago I felt the poem should have mirrored the significance of the day, but fell short. It was my least favorite part of the ceremony.

Hannah Stephenson (@thestorialist) asked on Twitter, what makes a good inaugural poem, other than sweeping and emotional? My answer to her, it needs to be simple and it needs to relate. It can’t be too arrogant or difficult.

I found Alexander’s poem to be difficult — it didn’t connect — and I found there was a certain amount of arrogance behind it.

Indeed, the only constant between the two ceremonies, for me, was the temperature.

3 thoughts on “Inaugural Poetry”

  1. I loved Richard Blanco’s poem. It’s something I would read even if it wasn’t associated with the inauguration. The poem was excellent in my opinion. The fact that he was able to mention the Newtown/Sandy Hook tragedy and make it still sound like a poem and not a speech just amazed me and said “THIS MAN CAN WRITE!”

    So many things work in this poem — the language, the imagery. I copied and pasted it and put it in my OTHER PEOPLE’S POEM file. I didn’t do that with Elizabeth Alexander’s poem. Richard Blanco’s poem moved me.

    1. Missy,

      Spot on.

      Regarding the tragedy mention, he wasn’t didactic. He understood the downfall of didactic poetry. He wasn’t there to preach but to heighten awareness.

  2. I loved his poem, too. I had chills (and not from thinking about the weather) listening to him read it. I printed out a copy from a site and have read it several times since. His poem reinforced my feeling from day one in the poetry world that we’re not here to show off to other poets but to act as visionaries, no matter how small the subject.

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