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Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Poem


By the Queen of Free

All right, already, I know it was almost three weeks ago, but a girl has got to work to eat.

Anyway, this was the scene in front of the Capitol while Elizabeth Alexander read it: More than half had already left their seats.


At least it has sparked thousands of conversations throughout the world and raised the spectre of “poetry” and what contemporary poetry is exactly. (I do not know.)

I know at my office THE poem has come up often since January 20 and two conversations turned into knock-down drag out fights.

Quick! What one word captures it? The first word which comes to mind when you begin to recall the content?

Exactly. Mine, too: Mediocre.

Maybe, mundane. (Please don’t tell Stacie.)

Honestly! Yale? This poem is proof that you can live by reputation alone.

Wasn’t it supposed to send us soaring onboard a new wing of hope? It is depressing stuff, a real downer. (Feb. 21 addition: Some others agree with my assessment, too, based upon this Yahoo story yesterday indicating the poem's sales of 6,000 compared to Maya Angelou's poem sales of 1,000,000 after she waxed poetic(?)at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.)

The placement of the poetry reading on the Inaugural program, after President Obama's inaugural address was sad, like an afterthought giving credence to those who might think it a weak part of the swearing-in.

As the new president neared the end of his speech I kept wondering: “Where’s the poem? Where’s the poem? Wasn’t a poem commissioned for this historic day?”

It was read ex poste facto when few remained at or near their seats on the grounds of the Capitol.

Some stood still and listened to words which seemed to come from a lonely Middle American farmer surrounded by no more thoughts of soaring than the birds he watched land on the fence while his cattle munched hay nearby.

“Repairing the things in need of repair”?

Come on! Any high school English teacher would count off for that phraseology.

“A farmer considers the changing sky.” Powerful stuff!

"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.'" In bold red ink: T R I T E across this section. Which brings to mind (sorry about this):

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

"We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see." Really?

Okay, okay already, so the last two lines are okay:

"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."

I could go on and on, but enough of my tripe. Except it's a good thing Garrison Keillor didn't have a hand in this or we would have been hearing about how the crows pecked out the eyes of the woman and her son at the bus stop, the sky fell on top of the farmer, and the students stabbed the teacher with the pencils.

The poem en toto as found at the New York Times:

Praise Song for the Day’ - The 2009 Presidential Inauguration Poem

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
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 some one 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 thyself,
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 pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

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