Today, January 20th, 2009, Elizabeth Alexander also made history as the inaugural Poet for OBAMA.
I haven’t seen any of her newer works re the inauguration posted yet and I have no idea if she took part in writing the inaugural speech for the ceremony this morning before the Mall in Washington but her work speaks for itself. Two of my not so old favorites are:
Stravinsky in L.A.
In white pleated trousers, peering through green
sunshades, looking for the way the sun is red
noise, how locusts hiss to replicate the sun.
What is the visual equivalent
of syncopation? Rows of seared palms wrinkle
in the heat waves through green glass. Sprinklers
tick, tick, tick. The Watts Towers aim to split
the sky into chroma, spires tiled with rubble
nothing less than aspiration. I’ve left
minarets for sun and syncopation,
sixty-seven shades of green which I have
counted, beginning: palm leaves, front and back,
luncheon pickle, bottle glass, etcetera.
One day I will comprehend the different
grades of red. On that day I will comprehend
these people, rhythms, jazz, Simon Rodia,
Watts, Los Angeles, aspiration.
oyster shell, drawstring pouch, dry bones.
Gris gris in the rafters.
Hoodoo in the sleeping nook.
Mojo in Linda Brent’s crawlspace.
Nineteenth century corncob cosmogram
set on the dirt floor, beneath the slant roof,
left intact the afternoon
that someone came and told those slaves
“Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.
President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward. And as his campaign was a movement much larger than the man himself, I understand that as a country we stand poised to make tremendous choices about our collective future. The distillation of language in poetry, its precision, can help us see sharply in the midst of many conundrums.
This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in.
This is only the fourth time in our history that a President has featured a poet at his inaugural. I hope that this portends well for the future of the arts in our everyday and civic life.”