Friday, January 23, 2009

The Obama Poem

I winced so much on hearing Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem that I was unable, in the immediate aftermath of this train wreck, to comment. Never mind, that supreme literary blogger Patrick Kurp has done it for me. As Patrick says, the awful thing is that people 'will confuse Alexander's pieties and platitudes with poetry'. I would only add that Whitman and copious quantities of (bottled) water don't mix.


  1. Alexander's poem is one of those things that people read aloud at Poetry Slams in cafe-bars.

    You read it in a jerky rhythm (pause) emphasising occasional syllables to make it sound sufficiently art- (pause) istic... then a little barrage of rhymes, times, crimes, slimes... and then at the end you... trail to... nothi-...

    Anyway the definitive Obama poem is here.

  2. And I absolutely love Geoffrey Hill's answer, as replicated on Patrick's blog, to the question: what is the function of the poet?

    The great poet has no social function. The mediocre, yes, he finds himself delivering fashionable platitudes to the public. The true poet is completely isolated.


  3. Hi Bryan,

    On the other hand . . .

    I responded positively to the poem at one of Frank Wilson's posts on the subject here:

    Books, Inq. — The Epilogue: Strike three ...

    This morning I find E. Ethelbert Miller's take:

    E-Notes: The Poem

    And her led me to Brian Gilmore's article here:

    EbonyJet: Praise Song: The Morning After


  4. "Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum" about sums it up. Still, why waste a good poem on something as trivial as a president?

  5. Many young people in America do not have a clue about poetry. If she recited Nietzsche I would have been far more impressed.

  6. I just analyzed this poem in class with my Temple U. students. It's not a great poem, nor even a very good one, but "occasional" poems never are. Even Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems to support the Italian Unification movement and Garibaldi were terrible. And *she*, we all agree, was a kick-*ss poet.

    Alexander further wrecked her poem by reading it so badly. Just the reverse of what Maya Angelou did with an equally so-so poem read at Clinton's inauguration. However, if you dig into this poem, as we did in class, there are a few good things in it. Many refs to the diversity of America (spoons on oil drums a clear ref to steel pan music from Caribbean -- Af-American, naturally); the mom & son waiting for the bus is Barack and his single mother (with further resonances of Freedom Riders, Rosa Parks, etc., as the day before Inaug. was Martin Luther King Day); refs to Lincoln and his Gettysburg address (reciting names of the dead), and so on.

    Poems were once songs, and that one sure would have been better sung by a Gospel choir. After all, she meant it to be a "praise song," but it clunked loudly as a work read by her. Tant pis pour elle.

  7. You need to be a Dryden - or an Auden - to do public poetry well, though Maxine's comment here seems pertinent.

  8. The poem was an eye-watering embarrassment, pure and simple. Singing it out loud wouldn't have helped except to make it even more risible. And she teaches at Yale, apparently. I'd ask for my money back if I was enrolled in her class.

  9. Then again, here is the mighty Yeats slaughtering "The Lake Isle of Innisfree".

    I had a couple of mates in the car once - on the way to a Test Match in Nottingham. I had snuck this little number into a compilation CD for the trip. Eyes on the road; join in on the odd line... Never give them any clues.

  10. I must have had two threads open, and made the comment below on the wrong one a day and a half ago. Sorry.


    I was over at a poetry forum called Delectable Mnts. There, Art Durkee linked to an article by Reb Livingston on her blog Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackal. She begins :

    I planned to stay quiet on the inaugural poem and wait for the nasty discussion to simmer down, but I'm disturbed.


  11. Hi Folks, What a class poem on Obama-'The Tiger Woods Of American Politics'. Visit to read it " THE PRECIDENT-PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA"

    Now compare it with Elizabeth's Inaugural Poem- Praise Song Of The Day.



    Will we battle terrorism as it should be fought
    Or run away and let evil doers chase us to our door?
    Will we protect our freedom and system of life
    As our fathers and grandfathers sacrificed before?

    Will we secure our borders against illegal entry
    Or let our economy and security be destroyed?
    Will we finally stop runaway wasteful spending
    By leaders who are self-serving and void?

    Will we continue to pledge our help to the less fortunate
    Who suffer from war, hunger and disease?
    Will we preserve our heritage and our future
    From those who wish to bring liberty to its knees?

    Never be afraid to be proud of America
    And march with the thankful, honorable and just.
    Never surrender our freedom of choice
    Standing firm for what we believe and trust.

    Sometimes it’s hard to protect what is right
    Sometimes we’re scorned as for others we fight.
    Some of us are willing regardless of loss
    To commit our soul to save the cross.

    Evil prospers on greed and human hate
    Always eager to destroy and defecate.
    God’s grace descends on the souls of man
    Cleansing the impure wherever He can.

    As long as man has struggled on earth
    Life has had its troubles from birth.
    God’s seed of goodness has delayed man’s demise
    Thank Heaven for his heroes the strong and the wise.

    The Lord adores his heroes of yesterday
    Just how numerous, only He could say.
    God loves his soldiers who line up to serve
    By standing against evil His grace they deserve.

    God Bless America


    There are two worlds, this one and the next
    Man’s is deceptive, temporary and full of blame.
    God’s is permanent, loving, truthful and complete
    Free of hate, lust, war, greed and shame.

    Our bodies belong to this world and die
    Our souls come from God’s and return.
    Virtue is knowledge of what is right or wrong
    As the lessons of lifetime we learn.

    Humans are disorderly, wasteful and corrupt
    All are guilty of the ignorance of sin.
    The worst crimes practiced on Earth today
    Are the sadistic deeds committed by men.

    History persist but nothing has changed
    The world we live in is more dangerous than before.
    Most people never know the true facts or answers
    They just follow the leaders they fear or adore.

    The falsehoods of politics shadow man’s soul
    Testing our faith, temperament and resolve.
    Real heroes defend, liberate and unite
    Facing problems with a mandate to solve.

    President Obama I pray for your wisdom
    To deal with America’s troubles and enemies at hand.
    Man’s world is God’s boot camp of divine worth
    As the misdeeds of man crisscross the land.


    When you chain the neck of a slave
    The other end fastens to you.
    Your heart and soul become corrupt
    And all which is evil you’ll do.

    No government shall exist for ever
    Who's people are not really free.
    Though around the world there are those
    Who stay blind to how life should be.

    Any who must enslave others
    Will dwell in their own living hell
    After death, they’ll join their master
    In that place from heaven he fell.

    But till then we’ll fight and resist
    Making them put their chains away
    And those of us who may die first
    From heaven shall watch and pray.


    The hinge of history swings in all directions
    As the happenings of the past are written down.
    Out of all that has occurred since man's beginnings
    Less has been recorded than waits to be found.

    Babylonians kept chronicles of history
    Hebrews wrote the past as a dramatic story.
    Greeks had no faith in the future at all
    Believing mans repeated errors doom his glory.

    Christians added a new dimension to history
    Looking forward to Christ's return to earth.
    An on going drama involving man and God
    Believing all are created of equal worth.

    Some have asked why must we study history
    It just encourages us to live in the past.
    When we forget history we repeat its mistakes
    As the outcome of humanity is cast.


    Fellow Americans

    America is the birthday cake of earth
    As the ants march from every direction.
    Thank God for all who have sworn to defend her
    Serving with love, honor, pride, and affection.

    Since the first day George Washington marched off to war
    There have been those who have wished our demise.
    Their hatred, fueled by jealousy and greed
    Was defeated by our brave and the wise.

    Once again, we must face a formidable foe
    Who have pledged by their God to destroy us all
    Misusing their faith as an excuse to kill
    As for a worldwide jihad, their leaders call.

    Some say we should try to appease them
    For if we resist, they'll hate us even more.
    But the David's among us shall cast our stones
    Defeating them, as it was done before.

    By Conservative Poet
    Tom Zart
    Most Published Poet
    On The Web


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