Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ah yes, poetry

I mentioned briefly, on Facebook, when watching the inauguration ceremonies that I almost felt sorry for Elizabeth Alexander, who got to read a poem during the inauguration ceremonies. I stand to be corrected, but I'm pretty sure that's the biggest audience that a poet has ever gotten for a live poetry reading, as these things normally consist of gatherings of no more than 30 or so, all drinking coffee and anxious to read their own poetry.

And hey, you're only following Aretha Franklin (and that funky hat) singing "My Country Tis of Thee", then violinist Itzhak Perlaman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Gabriela Montero, and clarinetist Anthony McGill performing a lovely original John Williams (Star Wars, among many other scores) composition called "Air and Simple Gifts", the history of Barack Obama get sworn in as the first black president and then his stirring and beautiful speech.

And now....poetry!

Also not helping was the Rev. Lowery's slightly loopy, but utterly charming, benediction that followed Alexander and wrapped up things. Which helped snap people out of whatever coma the poetry reading might have put them in. And really, slipping into a coma when its 10F with windchill isn't good. Next thing you know you're in a hypothermic coma and you gone and died. From a poetry reading. Which is a pretty sad way to go.

I don't know Alexander or her writing. She is perhaps a very nice woman and a talented poet. And I understand it's quite an honour as only a handful of inaugural ceremonies have ever had a poetry reading. But I think when she saw that line-up and got a notion of the size of the audience she was reading to - after all, it wasn't just the two million there, an estimated 70% of Americans were watching the ceremony - she must have realized she was doomed.

Because I swear once Obama finished speaking you could see the crowds start to leave en mass, which is a sensible enough reaction when someone tells you that there's about to be a poetry reading. I myself listened to the first 30 seconds, could feel myself slipping into a coma and opted to get up from the couch and get some lunch. I've done some reading online; I'm not the only one who had that reaction.

It was an admirable thing he tried, with the poetry. But I fear this might be a bit of a harbinger of his presidency. A good idea on paper, but the execution left a little something to be desired.

Last Five
1. My Buick - Mark Bragg
2. If I had a rocket launcher - Bruce Cockburn*
3. Knew you well - Andrew LeDrew
4. Let's fall in love (live) - Diana Krall
5. Rich woman - Robert Plant and Allison Krauss


Kiggavik said...

Poetry has long been a part of the inaugural celebrations. I didn't see Alexander's poem so I have no idea whether something happened or you just didn't like the poem. Personally I think poetry should play a part in celebrations such as this.

Probably the best known inaugural poet was Robert Frost. He wrote a poem called "Dedication" for John F. Kennedy's Inauguration when he was 86. However, the glare from the snow that day kept him from reading the newly written poem so he recited another one of his poems from memory the Gift Outright...

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

towniebastard said...

I thought poetry was long a part of inaugurals, but while doing some research I read that this is only the fourth time a poem has been read during an inauguration ceremony.

And, just like Lincoln, FDR and Kennedy kind of screwed future presidents by setting the bar so high on inaugural speeches, I suspect Frost kind of scrwed other poets. I'm hardly an expert on poetry, but Alexander's did absolutely nothing for me.

Kiggavik said...

Well Frost was one in a million, of that there is no doubt. Not only was he a gifted poet (and personally I think a poet is someone who can put down in words what most of us can only feel), but he was a poet that almost anyone can "get". That makes him rarer still. I am surprised that only four times poetry has been there, starting with Frost 48 years ago.

Then again, for some reason I'm not surprised that a President like George W. would not include poetry at his.

Megan said...

I don't know much about poetry, but Zach Wells does.

Anonymous said...

The poem was a cure for insomia and I too found myself heading for the fridge. After the talent that came before, no doubt it was a tough act to follow.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why he didn't get one of the rapper's he is supposedly passionate about to speak.

I love poetry and spoken word stuff, but I have to agree with you. That poet, and her poem, sent me to the teapot.

Adam Snider said...

I've been to many poetry readings and have heard more than my share of bad poems and bad deliveries. This piece had both.

Honestly, it was the delivery that clinched it for me. I understand the stress she must have been under, but had she managed a better delivery, the poem may have been better received.

As it was, I found it difficult to focus on what she was actually saying, as she paused far too long between EACH........FUCKING.............WORD.

On a side note: poetry readings are generally better when beer is drunk in place of coffee.

Anonymous said...

The only way that poem could have been tolerable was if you sparked up a bong, chillum, or did an aqua bomb and some one bribed you to listen to it for a feed of Leo's Fish, Chips, Dressing and Gravy.

towniebastard said...

And here I thought I didn't like the poem because, as a rule, I really don't like poetry. It's good to know that most people just simply hated it.