Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural poems

Oh jeez, y'all.

Here is the text of the "poem" read by Ms Alexander:

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.

Um. "lettuce" and "edifice" might be a clever rhyme, but in the words of a colleague, "it didn't really seem like a poem to me -- it was more like an essay."

This, my friends, is the epitome of poetry in America?

We should all stop writing.

In better news, let's look at this poem:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who has brought us this far along the way,
thou who has by thy might
brought us into the light,
keep us forever in the path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand
may we forever stand
true to thee O God
and true to our native land.

That, of course, is the end of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson. A better poem by far than the piece of crap written for the inauguration.

I weep for our letters.

Edit: A lot of people have been looking for an explanation of Alexander's inaugural poem. There isn't one. It's nothing more than agrammatical slosh filled with hackneyed quasi-poetic phrases. It wouldn't have passed muster back when I taught introductory creative writing to sixth graders.


Kirby Olson said...

It seems to be just merely strung together. The speech by Obama himself had a lot more fire to it. Maybe she toned it down so as not to trip him up, or something. Yours was a lot better, GM.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, the inaugural poem was vapid and silly. If this is what poetry has come to, why bother?

G. M. Palmer said...

Anon --

We should bother because if this is what poetry has become, then we should have little problem showing that the Emperor has no clothes -- if we can write relevant, strong verse that "the people" can enjoy.

Certainly we can write better than "praise song for struggle" -- I mean, we know how to use articles. But what poetry needs to be written for the 100 million Americans who read on a daily basis? What verse will they embrace?

Those are the hard questions.

Kirby Olson said...

I wonder if somehow the newspapers would allow one poem a week to appear again.

Can't be worse than what's already in the papers.

upinVermont said...

Hey G.M.,

I agree with what you wrote. Over at Mike Snider's blog I described Alexander’s poem as comfort food - well-intentioned and well-meaning but nutritionally vacuous.

The imagery is bland but her reading - God-awful. I'll ask you what I asked Mike: Why do poets read that way? It seems to be a free verse affectation? So many free verse poets read in this same stilted, school-marmish diction. She might as well have been reading the warning label on a pill box.

But what I find truly stunning is that she was both Yale and Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa poet. Not only that, she authored five collections of poetry, including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist "American Sublime."

The confluence of banality and mediocrity, both in taste and execution, that has almost exalted her to the Pulitzer Prize, is mind-bending.

I want nothing to do with any of it.

G. M. Palmer said...

Nor should you.

Poets read this way because they don't know poetry is supposed to sound good. I cut my teeth in a little enclave of poets in Gainesville, Florida -- performance was key (the first reading I ever gave, I followed a favorite son who ended his "poem" by jumping up and down on a stool high on stage and screaming "bullshit! bullshit! BULLSHIT!") -- needless to say, the robo-readers were run out of town (or learned better).

I haven't seen a good poet come out of Academia in seven forevers (Plath?). Part of me wishes I didn't have an MFA. . .

I hope that Alexander's reading goes a long way towards showing everyone that the emperor is a naked, drooling fool.

upinVermont said...

Oh G.M.,

I just noticed. You work in the trade of the bruised. Me too. Can't imagine framing during a Florida summer. We only get about two weeks of really punishing heat and that alone just about drives me out of the business. But I love cold weather.

How's the building trade down there? Are you keeping busy?

Right now, I've got a job through April, maybe, then I'll be looking for a house to build or renovate.

Last question: Are you a tool fanatic?

G. M. Palmer said...

I'm a hobbyist, but yes, a friggin tool fanatic.

I have an awesome 1" allen wrench. I have no idea what it's good for (other than whackin things) but it is beautiful.

upinVermont said...

A 1" Tool Wrench?


I bought a Monster 2" adjustable wrench and love it. I built a log cabin spec house with trees on the land. That, of course, prompted an antique tool buying spree. (The perfect rationale.) My pride and joy? - a Millers Falls boring machine, several hatchets & axes, spuds, a set of 19th Century Socket Chisels, a 5" inch wide Slick and a lovely old Rabbet Plane. I used them all- built a timber-frame stair way.

But it's still a sickness.

I perfectly timed the selling of the home with the collapse of the housing market.

I barely got out with my shirt.


upinVermont said...

By the way, G.M., there's a better lineation of this poem at the New York Times. They have organized it in tercets. Where did you get your lineation? (Not that it improves the "poem" one iota.)

And it took me a while to nail down the title. You probably understood it since you seem to be a church-goer. I'm not. Shouldn't Praise Song by hyphenated, thus: Praise-Song?