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 on 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.”