Saturday, January 24, 2009

Other possible Inauguration poems

It's possible that ceremonial poetry has to be bad poetry. How can you write something that encompasses the hopes and dreams of millions of people? Poets rely on small things, on fleeting images and emotions. All that can be lost during a reading in front of the massive U.S. Capitol to 1.8 people shivering in the cold.

So many other poems would have been better than the one Elizabeth Alexander penned for the Inauguration. Voice in Wartime offers some examples at
The site features previous U.S. Inaugural poems. But the better offerings are ones written by living poets on the occasion of Barack Obama's Inauguration. These poets didn't have to present their work in front of millions. Yusef Kumanyakaa's long single-stanza poem is too convoluted and the poet's voice too mellow to make it effective. Gary Soto writes a short poem. Soto would have been a great choice to perform on Jan. 20. Also Bob Holman, the poet behind the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in NYC and a participant at the Taos Poetry Bouts.

Here's Soto's poem, "Making the News," written for the occasion:

It's not right to burn newsprint,
The stink of ink in the air,
But I have to crumple at least a few pages
And strike a match in the fireplace--
The bad years go up in a question mark of smoke.
Or should I make confetti from the sports section,
Or shape a dunce hat from the business page—
I, the investor in rubber bands
That shot me in the foot.
Or should I cut out coupons--

Two cans of soup for the price of one.
Or, for a laugh, should I spread open the comics
On the kitchen table and string a macaroni necklace,
The playground craft I could master.
I choose smoke and fire,
The sting in my eyes on this January day,
And poke a wreath of newspaper
Until it crackles with a steady fire.
Let's air out the square and oval rooms.
Let's wave at a dog frolicking on the lawn.
Let's hear children and the tap of rain on a tulip.
Let's welcome the new resident to our house,
His handshake strong from the clasp of so many.

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