Elizabeth Alexander - Praise Song for the Day

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    Jan 21, 2009 2:11 AM GMT
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    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.
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    Jan 21, 2009 12:21 PM GMT
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    FROST DEDICATES JFK OUTRIGHT

    For John F Kennedy's inauguration as President of the United States Robert Frost wrote a new poem entitled, "Dedication". Like many others he conceived the new president as young Lochinvar, the perfect combination of spirit and flesh, passion and toughness, poetry and reality:

    "... The glory of a next Augustan age
    Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
    Of young amibition eager to be tried,
    Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
    In any game the nations want to play.
    A golden age of poetry and power
    Of which this noonday's the beginning hour."

    But the poet was old (87) and he couldn't see the words because of the sun's glare that bright, cold January day. The poem's newness to him and his unfamiliarity with and uncertainty about the way it went caused him to stumble uncertainly with his voice and tone and he gave up. Instead he fell back on an old one he knew perfectly, and in the most splendidly commanding of voices, recited it impeccably:

    - The Gift Outright -

    The land was ours before we were the land's.
    She was our land more than a hundred years
    Before we were her people. She was ours
    In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
    But we were England's, still colonials,
    Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
    Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
    Something we were withholding made us weak.
    Until we found out that it was ourselves
    We were withholding from our land of living,
    And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
    Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
    (The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
    To the land vaguely realizing westward,
    But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
    Such as she was, such as she would become.

    ~ Robert Frost; 1874-1963 ~

    “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” Kennedy said. “When power leads man towards his arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence.”

    President John F. Kennedy on the occasion of the dedication of the Robert Frost library at Amherst
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    Jan 21, 2009 12:23 PM GMT
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    Maya Angelou
    20 January 1993

    Inaugural Poem

    A Rock, A River, A Tree
    Hosts to species long since departed,
    Marked the mastodon.
    The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
    Of their sojourn here
    On our planet floor,
    Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
    Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

    But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
    Come, you may stand upon my
    Back and face your distant destiny,
    But seek no haven in my shadow.

    I will give you no more hiding place down here.

    You, created only a little lower than
    The angels, have crouched too long in
    The bruising darkness,
    Have lain too long
    Face down in ignorance.

    Your mouths spilling words
    Armed for slaughter.

    The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
    But do not hide your face.

    Across the wall of the world,
    A River sings a beautiful song,
    Come rest here by my side.

    Each of you a bordered country,
    Delicate and strangely made proud,
    Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

    Your armed struggles for profit
    Have left collars of waste upon
    My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

    Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
    If you will study war no more. Come,

    Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
    The Creator gave to me when I and the
    Tree and the stone were one.

    Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
    Brow and when you yet knew you still
    Knew nothing.

    The River sings and sings on.

    There is a true yearning to respond to
    The singing River and the wise Rock.

    So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
    The African and Native American, the Sioux,
    The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
    The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
    The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
    The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
    They hear. They all hear
    The speaking of the Tree.

    Today, the first and last of every Tree
    Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

    Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

    Each of you, descendant of some passed
    On traveller, has been paid for.

    You, who gave me my first name, you
    Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
    Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
    Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
    Other seekers--desperate for gain,
    Starving for gold.

    You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot ...
    You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
    Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
    Praying for a dream.

    Here, root yourselves beside me.

    I am the Tree planted by the River,
    Which will not be moved.

    I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
    I am yours--your Passages have been paid.

    Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
    For this bright morning dawning for you.

    History, despite its wrenching pain,
    Cannot be unlived, and if faced
    With courage, need not be lived again.

    Lift up your eyes upon
    The day breaking for you.

    Give birth again
    To the dream.

    Women, children, men,
    Take it into the palms of your hands.

    Mold it into the shape of your most
    Private need. Sculpt it into
    The image of your most public self.
    Lift up your hearts
    Each new hour holds new chances
    For new beginnings.

    Do not be wedded forever
    To fear, yoked eternally
    To brutishness.

    The horizon leans forward,
    Offering you space to place new steps of change.
    Here, on the pulse of this fine day
    You may have the courage
    To look up and out upon me, the
    Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

    No less to Midas than the mendicant.

    No less to you now than the mastodon then.

    Here on the pulse of this new day
    You may have the grace to look up and out
    And into your sister's eyes, into
    Your brother's face, your country
    And say simply
    Very simply
    With hope
    Good morning.
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    Jan 21, 2009 12:34 PM GMT
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    Miller Williams - January 20, 1997

    Of History and Hope

    We have memorized America,

    how it was born and who we have been and where.

    In ceremonies and silence we say the words,

    telling the stories, singing the old songs.

    We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.

    The great and all the anonymous dead are there.

    We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.

    The rich taste of it is on our tongues.

    But where are we going to be, and why, and who?

    The disenfranchised dead want to know.

    We mean to be the people we meant to be,

    to keep on going where we meant to go.

    But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how

    except in the minds of those who will call it Now?

    The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?

    With waving hands -- oh, rarely in a row --

    and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

    Who were many people coming together

    cannot become one people falling apart.

    Who dreamed for every child an even chance

    cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.

    Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head

    cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.

    Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child

    cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.

    We know what we have done and what we have said,

    and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,

    believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become --

    just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

    All this in the hands of children, eyes already set

    on a land we never can visit -- it isn't there yet --

    but looking through their eyes, we can see

    what our long gift to them may come to be.

    If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

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    Jan 21, 2009 1:04 PM GMT



    Thanks, eh?
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    Jan 21, 2009 1:52 PM GMT
    i only watched the Praise Song for the Day poem reading- had to leave for work and didn't know if there were other commemorative poems. anyways i hated it- she read it like a gps navigation system from 5 years ago.

    "Praise.... Song.... for, the. Day.

    Each. Day.......... We. Go.... About. Our. Business....."

    gave me chills. of course, if she has some form of autism, it'd be pretty impressive that she writes poetry. so in that case, power to her. but i think she just sucks at public speaking. or reading or something. i guess it was kind of a tie back into the last administration in a weird way, though she was at least articulate. lol
    glad i missed angelou- i really don't like her work. after having to read Caged Bird back in highschool, i will never look at a cob of corn the same way. (shudders)
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    Posts: 626

    Jan 21, 2009 3:13 PM GMT
    czarodziej saidi only watched the Praise Song for the Day poem reading- had to leave for work and didn't know if there were other commemorative poems. anyways i hated it- she read it like a gps navigation system from 5 years ago.

    "Praise.... Song.... for, the. Day.

    Each. Day.......... We. Go.... About. Our. Business....."

    gave me chills. of course, if she has some form of autism, it'd be pretty impressive that she writes poetry. so in that case, power to her. but i think she just sucks at public speaking. or reading or something. i guess it was kind of a tie back into the last administration in a weird way, though she was at least articulate. lol
    glad i missed angelou- i really don't like her work. after having to read Caged Bird back in highschool, i will never look at a cob of corn the same way. (shudders)



    I didn't especially love or hate the poem-- there was some imagery in it that I found really effective and some that just sounded like self-indulgent wordmush-- but in the poet's defense, she probably wasn't used to reading her work to an audience of two million people icon_neutral.gif She may have intended to recite it precisely as she did, or she may have had a profound case of the "there are 4 million (give or take) eyes on me and they'll be scrutinizing and judging this thing forever" jitters. Plus they'd all been standing in the cold for a little while. See how masterfully you read the most important composition of your career to that many people when your knees are shivering and you have to pee. icon_wink.gif
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    Jan 21, 2009 3:27 PM GMT
    I can't wait for our first Futurist or Sound poet at an inauguration.
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    Jan 21, 2009 4:04 PM GMT
    Czar baby,

    Yeah, that gets under my skin too, when artists perform their work they way they intend it to sound, that is so presumptuous. What's up with that?

    Eizabeth Alexander writes about corncobs too. Here for your disapproval,

    Emanicpation:

    Corncob constellation,
    oyster shell, drawstring pouch, dry bones.
    Gris gris in the rafters.
    Hoodoo in the sleeping nook.
    Mojo in Linda Brent’s crawlspace.
    Nineteenth century corncob cosmogram
    set on the dirt floor, beneath the slant roof,
    left intact the afternoon
    that someone came and told those slaves
    “We’re free.”