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gauguin57 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:14 AM
Original message
Salon: "Wonderful" poem: "That's how poetry works, distinguishes itself from prose ... preaching."
Edited on Wed Jan-21-09 10:14 AM by gauguin57
http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2009/01/20/poem/...

By Alex Koppelman
Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 15:23 EST
How was the poem?

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.'"
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Nicholas D Wolfwood Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:15 AM
Response to Original message
1. Poetry is NOT garbled prose.
Anyone who tells you that it is does not know what poetry is and has been for the thousands of years prior to the past 50 or 60.
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gauguin57 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:21 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Are you saying you thought yesterday's poem was "garbled prose"?
Not even sure how to respond to that.

I suppose it's a matter of taste. I love rhymed poetry decades, even hundreds of years old. I also like dark poetry from the modern period, and the poetry of the contemporary period. Free-verse poetry is some of the hardest to write, in my limited experience, because you aren't constrained by rhythm and rhyme scheme.

I thought Elizabeth Alexander nailed it ... I thought her poem (yes, poem) nailed it ... what Obama, and the symbolism of his presidency, is all about.
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progdonkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:22 AM
Response to Original message
3. no, it was awful...
Sorry, but her voice was high and nasal, and yes, it was "choppy," but not in a poetically interesting way. It was not "rhythmic"; it was dead.

(To be fair, I'm largely being so harsh because the author of the article is implying that anyone who found it "choppy" is a philistine who doesn't get "how poetry works.")

She (and the author of this article) seemed to mistake unmusical over-enunciation for clarity.
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gauguin57 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:33 AM
Response to Reply #3
6. Well, once again, I suppose it's subjective. I liked her delivery.
I was truly thinking, as she was reading, how much better I enjoyed her delivery than some contemporary poets who wrap an overly stentorian voice around overly pregnant pauses ... thereby flogging the poem into submission somehow.

I enjoyed the way she read; but if you didn't like it, well ... it's a matter of taste. I suppose what I object to is all the intellectual bullies who have been in here during the last 24 hours, acting as if they speak for the entire civilized world when they say the poem was HORRIBLE and HORRIBLY DELIVERED and ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS AN ILLITERATE SHMOE.
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progdonkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:26 AM
Response to Reply #6
13. so you quote an opposite "intellectual bully"?
That writer stated very clearly that, conversely, the poem was beautifully delivered and "anyone who says otherwise is an illiterate shmo" who doesn't understand how poetry works.

If you liked it, great, though it honestly sounds like you liked it more because of how she didn't deliver it rather than how she did.

I can appreciate your dislike of that sort of fake, inflated way some others like to read any worthless stream of sentences that passes in front of them, but the thing is that that doesn't mean her delivery is any less poor--it's just a poor delivery of a different sort. It's like the difference (or lack thereof) between a person who races through a piece of music or poetry at a nervously fast pace and a person who takes an extremely labored, tedious approach--that the first one is a bad musician/speaker doesn't mean that the second one isn't also a bad musician/speaker.
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gkhouston Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:39 AM
Response to Reply #3
8. Her vocal tone and the over-enunciation was definitely a problem. I found
myself thinking if I would have been more receptive of the poem if someone else had spoken it.
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progdonkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:02 AM
Response to Reply #8
10. maybe she's the Sheryl Crow of poetry?
Sheryl Crow is an exceptional songwriter, but she always sings with a very pinched tone and slightly flat. In other words, I'd buy a CD of her songs performed by other people, but not by her.

The poem may have been the greatest thing since Ulysses, but Ms. Alexander robbed it of all possible greatness with her piss-poor delivery.
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gkhouston Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 09:03 AM
Response to Reply #10
35. LOL, I nearly put a sentence in my first post about Bob Dylan.
Great songs, but a singer he's not.
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progdonkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-23-09 07:58 AM
Response to Reply #35
49. ha, same here... ;-) n/t
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ensho Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:23 AM
Response to Original message
4. think more men didn't get it - or rejected the female images in


the poem thus thinking it not important

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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:33 AM
Response to Reply #4
14. I thought there were more male images than female images
Men build bridges and patch tires, for the most part. :shrug:
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Bonobo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:45 AM
Response to Reply #4
18. Boy, aren't men just soooo dumb?
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EmilyAnne Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 04:46 PM
Response to Reply #18
31. I don't think not getting a poem makes a person dumb.
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TlalocW Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:29 AM
Response to Original message
5. I got what the poem was about
But it still wasn't a very good poem in my opinion.

Of course, that's just my opinion... As head of the English and Literature Department at Harvard!!!

Just kidding.

TlalocW
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gauguin57 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:34 AM
Response to Reply #5
7. LOL!
Boola boola to you! :rofl:
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gauguin57 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 10:43 AM
Response to Original message
9. One thing we can ALL agree on ... now THIS is POETRY!
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TlalocW Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 12:52 PM
Response to Reply #9
21. Well, technically, it's dancing. However
I think we can agree that... THIS IS NOT SPARTA!

TlalocW
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anigbrowl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:02 PM
Response to Reply #21
23. If you're going to be like that, it's photography :-)
Edited on Wed Jan-21-09 01:02 PM by anigbrowl
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Overseas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:16 AM
Response to Original message
11. I liked her poem, which continued the flow of poetry that began
with the John Williams piece, played by the multi-cultural classical group. That music covered a range of emotions, from sadness to delight and back again. Then our Commander in Chief gave a poetic speech of his own, seeking to banish fear and inspire us all to repair our country and restore our position in the global community. He also talked about rising above the partisan rhetoric to restore a government that worked for all its people, not just the already prosperous.

Then Alexander's poem echoed those themes-- she began with noise and brambles-- fighting one's way through the noise to the unifying factors like suffering and love.

And the wonderful benediction continued those themes in the format of plaintive prayers, with humor woven right in to his calls for forgiveness and strength to carry on.

My first reaction after that lovely sequence of poetic expression was Poetry is Back in the White House!

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theboss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:19 AM
Response to Original message
12. The Daily Show's response to this was great
How do you clear 2.5 million people from The Mall?

(Cut to poem being read).
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ensho Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:42 AM
Response to Reply #12
16. the Daily Show's response was mean and nasty
nt
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theboss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:48 AM
Response to Reply #16
19. Mean, nasty...and FUNNY!
Come on. When is an earnest women reading poetry ever NOT funny?
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slampoet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-23-09 10:55 AM
Response to Reply #16
51. I saw the inauguration in a movie theater and people were leaving just like in the Stewart Sketch.
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:40 AM
Response to Original message
15. She carried the big theme of black America's struggle?
FAIL.

I didn't see ANY overt black symbolism in there.
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ensho Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:43 AM
Response to Reply #15
17. I thought she was speaking to everyone
nt
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 12:10 PM
Response to Reply #17
20. Pretty much, yeah
:shrug:
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Barack_America Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 10:25 AM
Response to Reply #17
38. And that is why it was so good.
African Americans heard their struggles.

White Americans heard their own.

And guess what? There were/are a lot of common struggles there.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:24 PM
Response to Reply #15
25. Yes, she did. The poem remembered all those who had died (Edit)
Edited on Wed Jan-21-09 01:31 PM by sfexpat2000
and celebrated hand made signs figured out at the kitchen table. There may have been more but that's what I remember.

ETA: Not to mention, "praise song" is an African form! I had to look it up but it's as I suspected:

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/473871/praise...

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anigbrowl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:01 PM
Response to Original message
22. That's a big old fail by Alex Koppelman
I didn't care that much for the poem, but even while listening I could tell that I would like it a bit better when reading it. I hated Alexander's reading of it, which did not so much as stress the meter as arrest it (in the sense of cardiac arrest). She. Delivered. Almost. Every. Word. As if. It were. The. Last. It was like listening to someone play Chopin with a hammer.

Oh, and the TV cameramen stay on their subject. Deciding which feed to show is a producer's job, and happens in the control room; as with the poem, the elements are not the composition, any more than the ingredients are the meal. I'm sorry to say that the crowd's disinterest tells us a lot more than Koppelman can; good art (of which performance is a part) needs no introduction but draws us to itself.

It's not easy. I make part of my living by writing, and throw away 80% of what comes out...because in the end, the only reaction that counts is that of the person who has other things to do, but chooses to give your work the time of day.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:34 PM
Response to Reply #22
26. It's funny that you should mention that. I looked at the text for a while,
then watched her again and it was like hearing a different poem.
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ogneopasno Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:19 PM
Response to Original message
24. I thought her delivery was terrible. There was no rhythm whatsoever. And the words were stilted and
awkward. "Preempt grievances"? That's not poetry, that's bureaucracy.

The images evoke odd things, too -- few people stitch hems or darn holes anymore. It was old-fashioned without any context of a new day, sentimental and unrooted. The reference "take out your pencils, begin" evoked a standardized test to me, not the excitement of learning. Nope, it was not a good poem; Ms. Alexander was sadly out of her depth.
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 03:19 PM
Response to Reply #24
27. It evoked the promise of
NCLB. :hide:
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ogneopasno Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 08:17 PM
Response to Reply #27
33. That's EXACTLY what I thought.
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catnhatnh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 03:54 PM
Response to Original message
28. I don't get poetry that doesn't rhyme....
...for the most part, and yet they tell me that rhyming need not be employed in a poem....

I get that poems should be evocative and most rhyming ones are. If you choose to ignore the rules of rhyme and meter you should recognize that a spoken poem loses coherence. Speaking poetry requires either tight repetitive form or rhyme....This was expressed by Reverend Lowery who spoke a coherent theme of black aspirations that hung together without rhyming that BECAME a poem of hope than a ramble of non-related images...

I have seen non-rhyming poetry:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

So perhaps her "centre" holds when written, and viewed as a reading exercise, but she knew she would speak it. As an oral performance-no it affected me as much as Yoyo Ma might have by reading the notes from his score of "Air and Simple Things".
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WinkyDink Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 04:39 PM
Response to Original message
29. Poetry should include a wee bit o'figurative language. Unless I'm just not getting the metaphors in
Edited on Wed Jan-21-09 04:41 PM by WinkyDink
"Take out your pencils" and "patching a tire."

I think this empress had no clothes, and "Salon" is being pretentious (No, WD! Not with a name like "Salon"!).
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XemaSab Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 04:40 PM
Response to Reply #29
30. Banality
n/t
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NashVegas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 09:28 AM
Response to Reply #29
36. I Think Salon Is Being Forgiving
And I think if that poem was something that gets published and spread around, it's long past time I send a few things off to the Atlantic ...
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:48 PM
Response to Reply #29
45. You might want to look it over again.
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burythehatchet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 06:38 PM
Response to Original message
32. My 10 year old immediately said "the poem was my favorite part". That is art,
a harmonic resonance with an individual's spirit.
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BlooInBloo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 08:19 PM
Response to Original message
34. (shrug) This is always a problem when you have non-thinkers as critics.
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WinkyDink Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 10:19 AM
Response to Reply #34
37. Not sure to whom you refer, but:
Edited on Thu Jan-22-09 10:20 AM by WinkyDink
This poem was bad prose broken into bits.
With less alliteration and assonance.
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Posteritatis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:36 PM
Response to Reply #34
41. Also a problem when you define critics as non-thinkers (nt)
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Sultana Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 10:44 AM
Response to Original message
39. Her delivery sucked big-time, I couldn't bear to listen to the poem.
She cleared the Mall. :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
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Tsiyu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 12:36 PM
Response to Original message
40. Every form of artistic expression is in the eye, ear, mind of the


beholder. Except cheesy country music. That just sucks.

I read it and enjoyed it, but did not hear the delivery. Can't quote passages here but it symbolized - for me alone perhaps - the mundane small acts that make up a day, or the direction of a place.

It was simple and fresh and devoid of the window dressing and fake frill of the last eight years.

That's how I interpreted it.

ymmv
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Posteritatis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:39 PM
Response to Original message
42. Anyone who says "that's how poetry works" needs a cluebat
As if there's a book someplace with the Laws of Poetry explaining how all of it "works." Because this poem and Kipling and Frost and cummings and Virgil all used the same methods, right? Argh.

Maybe there's a similar one talking about how music works, handing down ironclad rules that somehow apply to J-Pop, Gregorian chants and prog rock all at once too.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:44 PM
Response to Reply #42
44. There is. It's called the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
It's a great resource. There are others but this is the best one.
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Posteritatis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:49 PM
Response to Reply #44
46. And it says this particular delivery style is "how poetry works?" All of it? I doubt that (nt)
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:53 PM
Response to Reply #46
48. Don't let me mess up your opinions.
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Zomby Woof Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:41 PM
Response to Original message
43. So people pile on a Pulitzer finalist
...invited by the president to read before millions (and billions worldwide), but fall all over themselves praising the dungheaps of doggerel posted in the Lounge by self-styled 'poets'.

Yeah. Okay then, lol.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jan-22-09 01:52 PM
Response to Reply #43
47. I haven't written a critical essay about a lyric in years but, man,
the snob/geek in me is itching to right now. I loved this piece and intend to read much more Elizabeth Alexander.

Next time, Obama better go for something rimed that uses a lot of hyperbole and the words "patriot", "grandeur" and "soaring".
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buzzycrumbhunger Donating Member (793 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-23-09 09:12 AM
Response to Original message
50. I thought this was a much better poem for the day
Of course, I can't say how the author would deliver it on this basis, but Marilyn Nelson (apparently a former poet laureate for the state of CT) wrote this for the occasion for The Hartford Courant:
Moments arrive and flee,

Each its own expiration date.

And we make history

Whether we're sleepwalking or not.

Moments arrive and flee.

Our momentary choices flow

Through the fingers we hold out now.

Each choice, made or not, defines tomorrow.

Whether we're schemers advancing ourselves,

Or whether we're dream-makers, time will tell.

What will the future say of us?

That we were torturers?

That our rich greed

Drove the world to the brink?

That we bequeathed pollution and national debt?

Or that, enlightened, we started to think.

That, in the moment we chose to vote for hope,

We changed our fear into new confidence.

That we woke from deep sleep

With restored wisdom and intelligence.

Then we used all the leaves

Of the family table, and brought in chairs.

Then we rolled up our sleeves

And started cleaning the earth, the sea, the air.

Like us, the future will thank all the names

People use for the One,

For making this remarkable young man

To lead America toward our highest aims.

May his greatness grow with each tick of the clock:

Barack, Barack, Barack, Barack, Barack!

Bring out the fireworks! Ring all the bells!

Let's celebrate President Obama! Let's sing ourselves!

I think there's some really nice imagery there--even for people who aren't into the whole poetry thing.
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