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Praise Song for the Day Hardcover – February 21, 2012
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“With the 2012 presidential election coming up, it is good to look back and recall the historical significance of the 2008 vote that resulted in the election of our first African American president. This is a book that can and should make that happen.” (School Library Journal)
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The poem begins with a variety of individuals going about their daily business-- working, making music, then progresses quickly to hope: "I know there's something better down the road." Ms. Alexander then gets to the heart of the matter, that we have elected the first African American president:
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.
The poem then moves to a praise song for struggle and finishes with the subject of love. Alexander asks the question: "What if the mightiest word is love?"-- a love that "casts a widening pool of light." The poem concludes with "praise song for walking forward in that light.Read more ›
While I love a poem filled with descriptive images, Alexander chose unimaginative cliches to show America. She presented no nuance, no color, nothing that is more than a prosaic poem not fit for a high school talent contest.
She looked for meaning, then scraped it clean of impact and influence before committing her idea to paper.
Who or what is she praising? A day? The definition of praise here is uniformly unpointed, as a day has no power. If the day has power, then it becomes a god, with a kind of omnipotent power.
"A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin.'" So what? Farmers do that. Teachers do that. She neither tells us something new, nor gives us insight about their action.
Her attempt to summon the spirit of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman fails with, "Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks..." as her song has no notes.
She suggests, "Some live by 'Love thy neighbor as thy self.'" Is she suggesting others do not want to live by that, living entirely selfishly? That's hardly an Obaminian thought.
"Love that casts a widening pool of light." Love, here, is a living entity, after she tries to explain what love looks like in vague terms.
Praise changes from a thing to an action, clunking on the ground as the listener hums the platonic, monotonous drumbeat, "On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light."
All of Obama's passion was passed in Alexander's poem. It will be quoted because it was read at an inauguration, but for no other reason.
I recall the great Robert Frost (The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged) delivering the JFK Inaugural Poem, a reworking of an earlier work. I wonder who would have presented the Second JFK Inaugural Poem, and those of his family to come.
I remember the mighty Maya Angelou (The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou) delivering with great yearning, joy and power an Inaugural Poem (or was it a dream I had fulfilled?) and prayed she may here again, our President once being based in Chicago, where Ms. Angelou herself always found a welcome home. I guess Aretha Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings was sufficient for this day, from our boomer generation.
And once for Maya was enough, and so we have, from our President's high academic territory, Professor of Poetry Elizabeth Alexander, our fourth Inaugural Poet.
Who is lacking from this brief list?
Professor Alexander originated in Washington DC and reportedly watched from shoulder tops the Reverend Doctor MArtin Luther King, Jr., deliver his well-known, eternal poetry from the steps of the Lincoln Monument. Such oration must certainly inspire a young poetess, forming those young bones.Read more ›