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>The Presidential Poet

> Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander became the fourth poet ever to be commissioned to write and recite a poem for the American Presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009, when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in. New York Times has this:

The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander, as provided by CQ transcriptions.

“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.

Read her bio and a few poems at
and a Q&A with her at Inauguration Poet, Elizabeth Alexander – TIME

7 comments on “>The Presidential Poet

  1. Silver Solo
    January 22, 2009

    >Thanks for posting this transcript. I thought it was a meaningful poem for the occasion. Perhaps a little slow in delivery for full effect, but I was moved by it.

  2. fiercepothead
    January 24, 2009

    >hi,my name is abhimanyu,you don’t know me. i was looking for someone called Roselyn from JNU and chance brought me here;i went to JNU too. i am doing a story on MS. Alexander’s poem for the Hindu and would be glad if you would like to express your views on it. my blog address is let me know,thanks.

  3. anu
    January 24, 2009

    >Parts of the poem i like, just not sure if i liked it for the occasion, definitely thought its reading was slow. Probably the contrast in voices on that day has something to do with the way i feel. Shashi and Isaak think it was wonderful. Little guy, saw the whole thing in school, earnestly asked, but why did they play circus music? each have our impressions, I guess 🙂

  4. Rhett
    January 25, 2009

    >I liked the poem. Thanks for sharing. I love free verse.[The lady in picture has a very interesting face, BTW. For one, the grin + jaw belong to a cartoon character, probably The Mask.]

  5. fleuve-souterrain
    January 25, 2009

    >Rhettwhat an interesting comment… the face… btw, free verse is more the practice to see a poet’s range of context and imagination than rhymed ones. Read some contemporary poets and you’ll see what i mean: Seamus Heaney, Robert Hass, Kay Ryan, Carol Ann Duffy, Meena Alexander…Anu,ha ha I love Chittu’s observation… circus music! yeah the readng was slow but the poem is good in parts… Haven’t read this poet much really.Silver Solo, thanks!Fierce, try my best.

  6. MysLykeMeeh
    January 29, 2009

    >I liked the verses—captivated the heart, thanks for sharing–I was watching the inaguaral ceremony but couldn’t catch her lines coz of much distractions–now, i read it through ur blog, thanks again!

  7. Linda
    February 4, 2009

    >I know I’m a little late… but I got here by way of a follower of my blog… saw your comments on their blog and was curious…. so here I am…I really like your blog… I’m glad I found it…I, too, liked the poem… I watched it…. I thought it was longer though…. thanks for posting it.Linda from

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2009 by in america, elizabeth alexander, Obama, poetry, president, yale.
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