Thursday, January 22, 2009

on poetry...

so i watched the inauguration. big shock. there were highs and lows. aretha wore a hat only she and the queen of england could pull off. obama's girls are so cute--especially after he took the oath and little sasha said "you're the president now, right?" and then came elizabeth alexander reading the poem she wrote for the occasion. 

i'm a little bit of a poetry snob. i'll admit it. i like structure and form. i'm not to keen on free verse. while listening to the poem being read aloud i thought to myself--"what the hell is this. this woman--this professor--cannot read!" i couldn't make heads or tails of the actual poetry because of the way it was read. 

now i give her credit. she was reading her own writing in front of a couple million people--that had to be scary. surely she was nervous, and, if put in front of her own students in her own classroom in her own school, she could read the poem more expressively.

i promised myself after listening to it that i would not judge the poem itself based upon that reading. that i would go home and read it for myself. and i did. and it's good.

there's not a single bit of structure. but it's good.

there's no rhyme scheme. but it's good.

there's no meter or foot. but it's good.

the poem expresses, in a very profound way, the places we can find inspiration and hope--not necessarily in the biggest, most gradiose moments, but in the ordinary--the mundane. 

it was the perfect poem for the day. albeit not the perfect reading.

Praise Song for the Day - 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.

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