Wyoming Arts Council

Poetry returns to presidential inauguration

After a long hiatus, poetry will return to the inauguration of the American president.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced today that Elizabeth Alexander, a prize-winning poet who grew up in Washington, D.C., will read at the swearing in Jan. 20 of President-elect Barack Obama.

Alexander will be the fourth poet to read at a swearing in after Robert Frost (John F. Kennedy, 1961), Maya Angelou (Bill Clinton, 1993) and Miller Williams (Bill Clinton, 1997).

Here’s a bio from the Inaugural Committee’s web site:

Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry. She is a professor at Yale University and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University this year.

You can read a selection of Alexander’s poems on her web site — or read this one, “Apollo,” from the Poetry Out Loud web site:

By Elizabeth Alexander

We pull off
to a road shack
in Massachusetts
to watch men walk

on the moon. We did
the same thing
for three two one
blast off, and now

we watch the same men
bounce in and out
of craters. I want
a Coke and a hamburger.

Because the men
are walking on the moon
which is now irrefutably
not green, not cheese,

not a shiny dime floating
in a cold blue,
the way I’d thought,
the road shack people don’t

notice we are a black
family not from there,
the way it mostly goes.
This talking through

static, bounces in space-
boots, tethered
to cords is much
stranger, stranger

even than we are.

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