How was the poem?

Elizabeth Alexander delivers for President Obama.

Topics: War Room,

It was wonderful. Amid the grand pageantry, Elizabeth Alexander evoked the individual, without blatant symbolism, every politician’s favorite ploy, and her Inauguration Day poem was all the more powerful for it.

Its simple images — “Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire” — were as pungent as Jacob Lawrence’s paintings of the black Diaspora from the South, and every bit as moving. Yes, she carried the big theme of black America’s struggle, but carried it lightly. With a black president about to call the White House home, she conjured the “dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce.”



After Obama’s ministerial eloquence, her reading, stressing the poem’s meter, may have seemed choppy to some. Not true. That’s how poetry works, distinguishes itself from prose, from preaching. In her rhythmic delivery, her images held. (Not that the TV cameramen had a clue. They blunted the poem’s impact by constantly taking the camera off Alexander and scanning the uninterested crowd.) I guess I wish Alexander didn’t veer off her dirt roads into an exposition of love in the end, where she seemed to spin her tires in sentimentality. But I heard her faint echo of Walt Whitman nonetheless.

Yet the poem’s end quickly fades and what remains are two images that capture the promise of the new president with indelible beauty. “A farmer considers the changing sky/ A teacher says, ‘Take out your pencils, begin.’”

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>