America’s Best Poet
Usually at such a solemn event, it is incumbent upon us to enlist the very best. Of course, we would have the best military band to provide the pomp. And the best soldiers to provide the best honor guard.
We would also have the very best Queen of Soul to sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee”. The best evangelical preacher to give the invocation. The best classical musicians to perform a specially-commission piece, written by the best classical composer of our day.
And, in this case, the best ... poet. Perhaps she can call upon the poetry gods ... to inspire her to give a recitation ... of the best ... poetry ... that this great nation ... has to offer.
In case you missed it, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander was the best, uh, poet, that Barack Obama could find.
In deference to copyright laws, I won’t publish her work here. You can read it here.
I think I can call upon the “fair use” clause to give you this sample, the first few lines of “Praise Song for the Day”:
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
It goes downhill rapidly from there.
I don’t doubt Dr. Alexander’s credentials. After all, she has three college degrees (just like me). A work of hers was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize (okay, she has one up on me in that category).
She is a former journalist for the Washington Post and currently is a professor of English literature, African-American literature, and gender studies at Yale University. Impressive credentials.
Her brother, Mark, was an adviser to the Obama presidential campaign and a member of his transition team.
Well, that explains a lot.
In an interview with the New York Times, she downplayed the role that her inner-circle connections with the Obamanistas played in her selection for this honor. “[E]very choice he’s made is ... based on what he perceives as excellence,” she says.
Here’s another example of what Dr. Alexander believes that Obama “perceives as excellence” as she tries to paint a verbal picture of a slice of life in America:
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Writing the things that need to be written. Saying the things that need to be said. Driving to the places that need to be driven to. Doing the things that need to be done.
Not a plethora of substance here.
In 1961, John Kennedy called upon Robert Frost to speak at his inauguration. Frost responded by writing “Dedication”. But in the glare of the white snow on a sunny day, the 86-year-old poet could not read his own commissioned work. Instead, he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.
Frost later presented his handwritten version of “Dedication” to the President, who had it framed and hung on the Oval Office wall. That copy is now in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.
The poem Frost wrote for the occasion was a stirring tribute to the history of a great nation, including the following verse:
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood.
Frost’s go-to poem when he couldn’t read his manuscript was no less majestic, a reminder of our colonial roots and our Manifest Destiny:
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.
Forty-eight years later, Barack Obama asked a friend of his to write her best poetry as a gift to the nation. Dr. Alexander came up with this:
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
The President has four years to search for our country’s second best poet. Let’s hope he doesn’t get a chance to reveal his choice to the nation.