Today’s sharp sparkle

I watched the inauguration today with my coworkers, each of us huddling around a couple computers, none of the broadcasts in sync, ringing phones adding to the din as if nothing monumental were happening.

My ears perked up at mention of a poem…

This was only the fourth time an *occasional* poem was commissioned for a presidential inauguration. What’s up with that?

(Anyone care to speculate what poem or poet the last administration might’ve selected had poetry even been a part of their consciousness?)


The following is a transcipt of Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem reprinted in the NY Times:

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

I watched hours and hours of the ceremonies repeated this evening on C-SPAN and really enjoyed that poem at the second hearing. There is something about poetry read aloud that goes straight to my center. Most people seem to think it was awful.

Any thoughts of the day? The poem? The speech? The dress?


25 thoughts on “Today’s sharp sparkle”

  1. My primary feeling was “good riddance.” Beyond that I’m in awe that we elected someone named “Barack Hussein Obama.” It’s a pretty strong break with the past.

    At the time I felt the poem was a bit of a jumble; on second reading I liked it a bit better. I liked Obama’s speech. It was appropriate for the historical moment but not too harsh. I also liked Lowery’s benediction. I tried watching the parade but the talking heads wouldn’t stop talking long enough for me to hear the bands.

  2. I loved the poem. But, I’m a poem person! 🙂 My husband wants to read the poem. He thinks her delivery was stilted and took the poetry out of the poem.

    And, Susan, you’re NUTS. Aretha is going to set trends with her hat! It ROCKED! Now I could not pull it off but I sure wish I could.

  3. I love the poem. I was disappointed in her delivery, but love the work itself. I agree with Egretsnest’s husband. It was difficult not to contrast the reading with Maya Angelou’s several years ago. She is a hard act to follow.

    It was a very emotional Inaugural. I doubt there will ever be another like it. His speech was marvelous. He told it like it is – no sugar coating.

    I just read a post you might want to visit:

  4. We watched hours and hours of it on MSNBC, mostly because I love those guys and their enthusiasm. What struck me most was that even the die hard politicians were absolutely blown away by the crowds and the mood of the entire day. Ken Burns noted it was an 11 on a scale of 1-10… it’s as if we’ve turned a real page. God, but I hope so.

  5. The poetry reading seemed like an awkward insertion and I think the point was missed my the majority of the listeners. She lost me in the first few lines, but when I looked up the words later on the internet, it made more sense. Perhaps poetry is best when read in intimate settings were other distractions are limited. Other than that, I thought the ceremony was moving and memorable.

  6. I must admit I was a bit disappointed in the poem. Perhaps my expectations were just too high. My mind kept drifting to the wonderful “On the Pulse of Morning” written and read by Maya Angelou at Clinton’s ceremony.

    I loved the musical selections.

  7. I loved the poem. I thought it was beautiful and true in a quiet way. My daughter said, “She’s reading it funny.” Well, most poets don’t ever read their poems out loud to more than a few hundred people, ever, if they are lucky to be heard.

    I’m done with anti-intelluctualism, cute pet-names that demean professional people, early-to-bed just because, loyalty trumps everything even the truth from the past administration.

    I like that Obama’s speech didn’t have a “catch phrase” that will be easy to remember and quote. It was about the whole thing.

    I like that Aretha brought her history, her girth, and that crazy hat that no one but her could wear as she struggled to sing the song everyone knows in a way that spoke to me differently than I’ve ever heard it before.

    I love that so many people watched it clustered around whatever visual medium they could find, and that we all have something to say about it the next day.

    I also think the eagles at the Lincoln Memorial celebration on Sunday rocked, and especially that the handlers didn’t release them even though they had done it before, because they didn’t have enough time to rehearse and it wouldn’t have been good for the birds.

    Enough of my rant on your beautiful blog, Laura. Thanks,

    Wayne, PA

  8. First, the hat. Aretha would have fit right in in any AME church. For great hats, you can’t beat an African-American church on a Sunday morning.

    Second, which dress? Michelle’s inaugural one? Great–classy. The various balls’ gown–fantastic. Damn, she looks fine. Makes me envy that body, but not the work it would take to get it.

    Third, the poem. I think the poem was better than its reading. The only quarrel–the words “praise song” in tandem do NOT roll off the tongue. Poetry is MEANT to be heard–but it must sing. Maybe if a mellifluous voice such as Garrison Keillor would have helped.

    Finally, the speech. I think it’s fairly clear where President Obama is going to lead us.

  9. I thought the day was perfect – minus Aretha’s hat. I shed a few tears but the highlight of the day was Beyonce’s “At Last” while the Obama’s danced…

    This is true. I liked that poem – I heard it twice. Laura, I thought of YOU!


  10. Susan: I liked her hat!

    John: That’s why I like C-SPAN – no talking heads!

    Dr. Know: But… I love the pomp and circumstance for what it’s worth!

    Liza: Ha! My DH was like, “Poem? What poem?”


    Bobbie: Thanks for the link.

    Regarding the poem: I felt like it worked, once you let yourself concentrate on the words and images and got past the surprise at the way it was presented. I think maybe she meant it that way.

    Jayne: Yeah… I had goosebumps thinking of all those people coming from all four corners to be a witness to history.

  11. I liked that, despite all the preparation and the grandeur, even the greatest can falter (Chief Justice) and a fairly plain, simple, quite understandable piece of “poetry” cand be read by its author – who is not a professional speaker – I liked the part about the farmer and the teacher …

    “Charge of the Light Brigade” .. was that by Kipling? Maybe that is what would have been last time!

    Intriguing post and responses. Out here on the West Coast we tend to view those big events as “over there” .. we had to be up early to see … and so it takes something to get us excited … most of us were!

  12. Just in from our pilgrimage to the inauguration, and so many words are still ringing in my ears…I heard Alexander’s “praise song for walking forward in that light” as an echo of Obama’s themes of service, connectedness, compassion, inclusiveness, peacemaking. Love IS the mightiest word, and her eloquent reminder of a poem kept us anchored where we stood as the crowd around us dispersed, off to continue their own personal stories, so interwoven with our own.


  13. Loved the poem, the speech, the dress. Your post’s title caught my eye because I wrote of another artist’s use of the word “sparkle” today. I hope you’ll come visit my blog and read the posts for today and Tuesday at
    to see what I thought of the inauguration and the Obama presidencey.

    PS Just found your blog and really enjoy it. Your photos and writing are great. Darn! Another must read to add to my reading list. Will I ever get this house clean? 🙂

  14. Ruth: Yeah… it looked great on her!

    (Wondering why I never learned to wear hats.)

    I disagree about poetry being better suited to intimate settings; instead such public poetry has the potential for greater exposure that I think it needs, maybe.

    I think you’re right… the poem was probably lost to many, or those who expect poetry to fit a particular, expected form.


    NCMountainWoman: I’m not a big fan of Maya Angelou’s poetry, but she had more presence and that booming voice working for her at Clinton’s inauguration, yes.

    *Simple Gifts* was a nice surprise and quite beautiful, I agree.

    Heather: You need to start a blog!

    (Beautifully said. Thank you!)

    I missed anything about eagles… will have to search that out.

  15. Yolanda: Pretty amazing, huh?

    KGMom: I love black ladies’ hats and the absolute confidence with which they’re worn. Seeing them on Sunday mornings is a particular joy of my neighborhood. Hardly anyone dresses for church anymore.

    I was most struck with how young and happy and genuine they both looked that day. I would have ditched that conservative long overcoat thing, but I guess the cold was the deciding factor in that choice.

    Hearing the poem for the second time that evening… I hung on her every word. Wondering how Garrison Keillor might have changed the whole feeling of the poem…

    I read something in the Times today that suggested his speech was too harshly critical of Bush and that such a speech was almost inappropriate and disrespectful.


    Mary: Thanks for thinking of me.

    Yeah… I saw that dance, too.


    Rabbit’s Guy: She’s a Harvard professor, I think.

    (Pretty close to a professional speaker!)

    Glad to hear you thought it worth getting up for.

    La Reine: Hey! I can only imagine what it must’ve been like to be there. Any stories?

    Fantastic Forrest: Hi and thanks for stopping by. Hope you’ll stick around.


  16. Stories?! Oh, yeah…

    Driving up from Atlanta, we stopped to paint our windows with slogans like, “Honk if you have hope!” Seemed like every other car honked, with folks hanging out windows, flashing thumbs up, smiling as if we were travelling together as pilgrims.

    Upon arrival at the Mall on Monday, Stevie Wonder (my fav) cranking out “Higher Ground” on the jumbotrons. I break out dancing and am joined by a half dozen black folk. When the song ends, we are a ball of winter coats, giddy laughter and tears of joy, holding on as if we’d just found long-lost family. My daughter, Kate, is standing aside (as usual), adding a mental note to tell this story at my memorial.


    Sharing the crowd’s elation as HomeBoy Jimmy Carter was introduced and it’s scorn when He Who Shall Not Be Named arrived. Disrespectful to boo your president?! Simply democracy at work! And how fun is it to be in the majority for once?!

    All storytellers love an audience…thanks for listening!


  17. LaReine: Thanks for sharing those… I’ve not watched enough TV to have heard any of the personal stories that’ll become part of the mythology of the day. Sounds like fun!

    KGMom: Thanks for that.

    BluebirdofParadise: Hi and yeah!

    I wish I might’ve experienced it in a more direct way, but…

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