Friday, December 26, 2008

The Politics of Poetry

As though we needed yet more proof that Obama is doing his best to separate himself from the Bush regime--I mean, administration, meet Elizabeth Alexander, the next inaugural poet.

It is interesting to note just whose footsteps Obama is following in naming an inaugural poet in the first place. There have only been three inaugural poets in the past (Robert Frost at JFK's, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams at Clinton's first and second inaugurations, respectively), and the Republican inaugurations have always been notable sans poetry.

Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine, points out that
"'In a way, the poem itself is not the point. [...] I would guess that a president-elect decides to have an inaugural poem in the first place not in the hope of commissioning some eternal work of art, but in order to acknowledge that there is an intimate, inevitable connection between a culture’s language and its political life. That Obama wants to make such a gesture seems to me a pure good — for poetry, yes, but also for the country.'" [1]
Alexander herself acknowledges Obama's connection to the power of langauge (which has already been explored somewhat here and here): '"His own use of language, and his respect for it, is so evident,” she said. “He is aware of the kind of power language has, and aware of the kind of care with which we ought to try to speak to each other with as we move forward.'" [1]

Work Cited:

[1] Garner, Dwight. "The Intersection of Poetry and Politics." The New York Times. 24 December 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/books/25poet.html?_r=1&ref=books

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