Let me first say that I am no judge of poetry. I have little knowledge of the stuff and have even less interest in it. So, for all I knew the poem that Elizabeth Alexander read during Obama’s inaugural was a great one. It seemed a bit pedestrian to me, but, like I said, what do I know?
As the days rolled onward after the inaugural ended more and more people in the know about poetry came out to say that Alexander’s poem was a bad one. Well, apparently the poem buying public agrees with those in the know because the book in which this panned poem appears is selling like crap cakes.
Since that time, Alexander’s work has struggled to find an audience in print, selling only 6,000 copies, according to the Associated Press. The poem’s publisher, Graywolf Press, announced a first printing of 100,000 copies.
I would say that we have at least one clue why this poem is such junk.
Alexander, a professor of African-American studies and English at Yale University, is a prominent writer and poet hailed for her pared down style.
A “professor of African-American studies.” In other words she is a professor of some made up crap that wrote a crap poem that is selling like crap.
Seems pretty clear to me. You don’t even have to know a thing about poetry to understand that.
Oh, look. Here’s the piece of junk now….
Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
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 some one 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 thyself,
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 pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.