When Elizabeth Alexander was chosen to give the inaugural poem, there was some stirring in Philly. Elizabeth got her PhD from Penn and put down some roots here. John Timpane wrote a story about her, with a "local angle," for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and asked me for a few comments. I thought about the context (four poets have read at inaugurals) and told him that she didn't have the stature of Frost (Kennedy) but was a better poet than Maya Angelou (Clinton).
PennSound has an Elizabeth Alexander author page. It features recordings of poems she read a few years ago at the Kelly Writers House. Among them is "War", which is the poem she should read on January 20 if she can't write a new work for the occasion.
A critic of the choice of Alexander writes: "Now granted, one can't determine a presidency by its poet. Or can you? Robert Frost for Kennedy, lots of glitz and stirring end rhyme with a seedy underbelly and a lack of much substance? check. Maya Angelou for Clinton, lame pandering to the masses and a seeming unwillingness to look beyond the ego of the poet? check. I guess it remains to be seen exactly what sort of poet and president this combination will bring us."
Rod Blagojevich, in a speech for the annals of political bluster, quoted a dozen or so lines from Rudyard Kipling's ubiquitous, stalwart, quoted-on-all-occasions "If." About a half dozen bloggers and journalists asked me to comment on this. Not sure why. I assume it's this: I've been on the web so long (since '94) posting pages and writing commentary on poetry that I tend to come up early in web searches. I'm not a Kipling guy, for sure. Am interested in but finally indifferent to the fiction, and am absolutely tired of "If," recited either as evidence of personal triumph or as pep talk for bedraggled groups (employees, students, summer campers). Bill Lucey of The Morning Delivery quotes me in today's entry: here. There are minor inaccuracies in the quote but he gets the gist of my view.
Louis Zukofsky's poem "Xenophanes," which begins
Water, cold, and sweet, and pure
And yellow loaves are near at hand,
Wine that makes a rosy hand
Fire in winter, the little pulse.
--was not apparently a poem that Zukofsky liked to read aloud or indeed ever read while a recorder's reels were turning, so far as we knew from the readings we have on Zukofsky's PennSound page. I had gone looking for it there, but no luck.
But wait a moment. It's there. The poet created a home-made tape recording for the Library of Congress on November 3, 1960. He read 39 poems. The 16th was "So That Even a Lover." He hardly paused after reading that short poem and then read "Xenophanes." We missed it when segmenting the mp3 we made from the reel-to-reel tape. If you listen to "So That Even a Lover" long enough you'll hear "Xenophanes."
We'll re-segment and add the link to "Xenophanes," but enjoy it in the meantime as an encore, a bonus track.