Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Day Was the Poem

Air and Simple Gifts is a classical quartet by American composer John Williams composed for the January 20, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

The Day Was The Poem

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be –
Shaker Song “Simple Gifts”

On an estatic, cold January day, two million people,
and the world witnessed Barack Obama become president
of the United States of America, words, songs, public text —
a choreography of hope.

“. . . we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.”

“. . . we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

This president, who sent me an email right before the Iowa
speech saying, simply — “Turn on your television,”
media, image, music, icon, tableau,
public document, history —

the way an artist uses line or color, brush stroke, dream, idea,
rhythm, to create images able to change hearts and minds,
heal the world —

Aretha Franklin,
Yo-Yo Ma, Senators, everybody.
America parades down
Constitution Avenue—
parkas and warm hats, all of us,

high school,
college marching bands, drill teams, flags,
brigades, gymnasts — one startling afternoon
in January, golden light.

A tall, brilliant man walking down the street,
a brilliant woman walking beside him.

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
O happy day.

©Susan Bright, 2009

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

* You can read the text of Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech here.

*Here is the Inaugural Poem, by Elizabeth Alexander, posted by
Poets & Writers.

Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

by 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.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.


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Blogger Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

I wrote a couple of poems after the inauguration (and there will probably be more to come). I think this is the one I like best.

A New Parade

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though it's a cold day in January, and the trees
seem turned to stone, statues of elephants standing
in the thin sun, the branches are swaying in the icy
wind like a hundred thousand hands waving flags
in a park, and each twig has a new leaf furled
at its tip. Spring seems far away, but we know
it's coming, the great change. A bright new day
is beginning.
~Barbara Crooker
(appeared online in Fieralingue's "The He/Art Pants" anthology)

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from Lynn Strongin

THE GOVERNESS in the Urkanian film

Rushed from car to car of the railway train

Honing her salvation

Pastel, frilly & feminine the décor at Daniel brought to mind

The lining of a prim octogenarian’s underwear drawer.

But now silvery, chocolate, burgundy


Colors are the real deal

Light porus down upon us all

This is the day that was the poem

Mircaulous like the day a plane landed in the Hudson

River & passengers survived walking out on wings.

Stupendous, amazing, yet quiet like the angel stuck in the branches of the tree

Leftover from Yule

This is like driving a big truck on ice

Where once was a cobbled town.

Dreamy, history

This is soon to become legend:

The book doublespread on our laps: the governess who was poor having found

Her stock of wealth in words:

The day this is that was the poem.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Occasional Poem for Barack Obama, on Inauguration Day, 2009


Marian Kaplun Shapiro

In the moment when
everything comes together, when
the picture emerges, when
the artist knows it’s done, when
all that remains is to sign the canvas:
Real, it sings, this is real.
Nothing will ever be the same again.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ruta Maya January 20-an open mike as unpredictable as life itself
Justin Time sees a clump of poets who may not get to read-
he goes directly to the counter and brings back hot chocolate for all
We feel like Presidential Poet material-feel that his chosen poet
did not fully represent contemporary performance standards
hampered by an academic stiffness that limited connection
with a population fully needing poetic representation
after eight years of prosaic verbal and military abuse
Washington beamed its million vibration Mall
We gathered in a South Austin coffee shop
and listened each and all.Even after the open mike,
we lingered because time had run out-and we would not..
Every vision needs ears and eyes to carry it
like wood to the fire of our hearts-we burned with need of truth
warmed ourselves with braille sonar signals of personal urgency

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hi. I'm playing with a poem, but I'm not sure it's ready yet. Here's the draft, though.


20 January 2009: Family of Poems

There were nearly two million poems

released that day on the Capitol grounds,

and tens of millions of poets gathered

at town halls and college campuses

and capitols and villages from far away.

Tens of millions of poems emerged.

Poetry overran the land that day, relentless

waves of poems, words from tears, stanzas

from smiles. Each face a sonnet to hope,

bundled bodies leaping like innocent gazelles

and hugging in the Siberian winds, arms linked

for a day in an extended family of poems.

A poem teases dreams, and one by one

a family of poems resurrects the spirit.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Lori Desrosiers said...


Ben, eighteen
prison for life
for possession of marijuana
three strikes you’re out

Amelia, Suzy’s grandma
sick, alone and penniless
Medicaid pays for
poor nursing care

Ralph, 70, retired
invested in funds
cut in half
now going back to work

Assiyah, looks
so beautiful in her
new blue head scarf
proud, Muslim, American

Curtis and Kenny
together twenty years
were planning their wedding
until Proposition 8 passed

Olivia, sixteen, homeless
her baby in NICU
she wants to keep him

Barry, star salesman
employee of the year
‘til the dealership closed

Alicia, single mother of five
driving a school bus
keeping her head
barely above welfare

Mark, studying criminal justice
full scholarship
first in his family
to go to college

Aricelli, ten years old
sang solo last year
her school just cut
art and music programs

We the people
cry from street corners,
from the halls of hospitals,
from factory floors,
clock out for the last time,
shake the bars of our cells,
throw out our memories,
narrow our children’s minds.

Bring us back, Obama
remind us how to fish,
how to dance together,
write poems and stories,
plant perennials.
Build us up
instead of breaking us down.
Bring America home.

Lori Desrosiers 1-20-09

2:58 PM  
Blogger SB said...

We lost this post on the 23rd, two days after I put it up. I hadn't kept a copy of my original poem -- imagine that! Tonite I reconstructed the poem and the post as I remembered it.

One of the images that struck me most powerfully during the Inauguration ceremony was Yo-Yo Ma, smiling, laughing almost — certainly having fun. Contracted to Perlman who seemed quite intent on the music. Later we all discovered the quartet had pre-recorded their performance because their instruments couldn't be counted on to work in the cold weather conditions.

Something about a strange video clip in the post entitled "Freedom Road" a few days earlier had caused this one to be lost.

So here it is again, as best I can remember it.

Thanks to everyone who send in poems here.

O happy Day.

SB (Susan Bright)

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Meaning of Barack to Me

When I fought in Vietnam, there were times I carried the dead off battlefields. Some were black, some were white, and some had no color—burnt so bad, they had no skin. None of that mattered because they were us. We were brothers. We answered the same call and we covered one another’s backs.
Forged in blood sacrifice, these bonds of brotherhood are as strong now as the bloody memories that yet find their way into my everyday consciousness. These sacrifices were made in the name of Freedom, that self-evident truth written in our founding declaration that “all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights….”
Just as self-evident is that our nation was founded and has endured despite a glaring contradiction between what was written and what was practiced. For sure, things have improved since the days of the slave-master’s whip and the Klansman’s burning cross, but to me, and millions of other veterans like me, any encroachment on equal rights is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of the blood sacrifices made in Freedom’s name, and it is a betrayal of the brotherly bonds among soldiers.
Obama’s inauguration fully validates the long-challenged claim of peoples of color to full humanity. They have every right to special pride in their vindication. Now is the time to pull together to make this a better place for all. Let us do so rejoicing that this day in our body politic all men are truly equal in practice, as well as principle.

Brad Kennedy is the author of
Betrayal: Will Stone in Vietnam
Austin, TX: Plainview Press, 2008

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Opossum to Obama—a Two Mile Walk

There on the hard, cold concrete, five stories
down from where I last saw this teenage opossum
cowering and homeless, lay the softly furred body,
dead and stiff. She died from circumstances beyond
her control—development of her once rough riverbank.

What could I do but bless the little one, carry her body
into tall grasses and walk on, thinking how change can

Two miles later I am in the thick of change, in a room
full of strangers who have come together to witness
change on a grand scale, change we embrace, change
we relish, change we have craved. So much change in
the air of this inauguration that millions of tears of joy
run down the cheeks of a nation ready to give up blame,
division, small-thinking, and war. The contagion of hope
re-fires the of torch of idealism and acknowledges the
unity of common good. With reverence and prayer,
with joy and relief, with an abundance of hope we
were there in spirit as our new President swore to
to be true to the Constitution, to accompany us to higher
ground, to lead us in a new direction and to engage us.

In all of this we give grateful thanks to the generations
who brought us to this pivotal point; we see Lincoln in the
background and with him the spirit of Martin Luther King;
we appreciate the watchful eyes of a hopeful world.
Now we pray for our President Barak Obama and our
Vice-President Joe Biden and for our elder statesman
Ted Kennedy.

From change to change to change. And so it goes.

January 20, 2009 3:15 pm
Eve Capehart
Richmond, Virginia

7:53 PM  

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