Soon after Election Day we asked “Who should be the inaugural poet for President-elect Obama?” — and you, dear Readers, responded with lots of names and incisive comments. Now, a month later, the program for Inauguration Day is taking shape, it has been decided who is going to read a poem during Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony — and it’s someone whose name never made it onto our list: Elizabeth Alexander, poet, essayist, playwright, Professor of African-American Studies at Yale University, and board member of the Poetry Society of America and Cave Canem.Elizabeth Alexander's website, selected poems, WaPo article & YouTube: “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” from American Sublime, read by Elizabeth Alexander
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder
The talk is good. The two friends linger
at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.
There is no after the supper and talk.
The talk is good. These two friends linger
at the door, half in, half out, ‘til one
decides to walk the other home. And so
they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the
nightgowned wife who shakes her head and smiles
from the bedroom window as the men talk
in love and the crickets sing along.
The joke would be if the one now home
walked the other one home, where they started,
to keep talking, and so on: “African
Leave-Taking Disorder,” which names her children
everywhere trying to come back together and talk.