Friday, February 6, 2009
Continuing the Debate...
Many have commented, both here and via e-mail, on my blog about inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander. Several expressed an interest in reading the poem she created for Obama's big day; thanks to Poets.org, now you can. Here is "Praise Song for the Day."
To me, Alexander's poem has a sort of Sandburg-ish air--a simple, everyman (everywoman?) accounting of our diversity that slowly leads us, line by line, toward unification--much like the new president's professed goal for our country. And in keeping with this administration's sunny attitude (Obama's "pick yourself up, dust yourself off..." speech cracks me up every time I hear it replayed; am I the only person who wants to jump in with "...and start all over agaaaaaaain!" a la the Jerome Kern golden oldie?), Alexander's happy ending sits well. Critics don't like happy endings, and they don't like simplicity, which is, I'm sure, part of the reason this inaugural poet rankled. Too bad; in my opinion, her words fit the moment. Sometimes, passion matters more than posterity.
My favorite line in the poem is "we encounter each other in words...spiny or smooth." When I talk to young writers, I stress the importance--and joy!--in poetry of finding the exact, absolute, best choice among a word's sundry synonyms. Of all the possibilities Alexander could have used to reference the ugly invectives* and taunts we humans hurl at one another, "spiny" is an intriguing choice--not an adjective typically applied to verbal assaults, but quite apropos, don't you think?
One hopes Ms. Alexander's hide is thick enough to ward off the many spiny words that have come her way these recent weeks, and that she has gotten wind of the smooth ones sent forth from those who found her contribution quite cogent.
*Invective? Invectives? What's your opinion?