Barack Obama’s eloquence was the subject of much debate during the election season. Now that he has taken office, it’s official: not only does he have a way with words, but those words have substance. We as a country have endorsed eloquence, and we’ve elected ourselves a fine example to which we can aspire.
What of his choice of Inaugural Poet, though? The Internet has been buzzing with opinions of Elizabeth Alexander’s reading since the moment she took the stage yesterday. Initially, most people seemed to be responding to her performance rather than the poem itself — everyone thought they were talking about the poem, but really, they were comparing her performance to Obama’s, and maybe a little to Maya Angelou’s at the Clinton inauguration.
Then when the text emerged, the prose-poem bashing began. God forbid a poem doesn’t have line breaks in the middle of sentences! Bookninja noted that people began leaving the Mall in droves once Alexander took the stage, before she’d even started. Though we’re making social and intellectual progress, we still don’t like poetry (though maybe we would have responded better had Michael Cirelli read his imagined account of Barack and Michelle’s first date, which is tragically as-yet unpublished).
The bottom line, though, is that Obama chose to have a poet at the inauguration, which no doubt fuels the hopefuls signing this petition calling for a Secretary of Arts/Culture. And poetry aside, there is greater evidence that Obama will be good for the written word. He’s already inspiring a huge number of books, truly independent booksellers, brand new fiction, and debates about the “classics” we read in school.