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.
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.
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