Thursday, January 22, 2009

Praise Song For The Day

Via VivirLatino, the official transcription of Elizbeth Alexander's inaugural poem. She quotes another blogger's response to criticism of the poem:
So leave it to a Woman of Colour...to say through poetry no less, and in a voice that reminds me of some spoken word artists, what I really wanted to hear. What stood out for me:

* Words are everything.
* Never forget history and whatever people have in the US, people of colour have BUILT IT and struggled for it. Also people of colour built capitalism!!!!
* Hope.
* Love - "What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national." Yes, yes and YES!!!

Here's Alexander's comments about the poem and the day, and below that, the poem itself.

hello my friends,

i wanted to send you all the official version of the poem. various
improper version of "praise song for the day" have been circulated on the internet and even in newspapers, culled from transcription. this community can understand how it feels for the poem to be out there with no line or stanza breaks -- yikes. you can feel free to
circulate this *as long as you include the credit line from graywolf
press at the bottom*, which indicates that it is the official version
and respects copyright. in fact, given all of your networks, you'd be doing me a favor to circulate the poem -- i'm trying to rectify those incorrect version out there.

it was a day beyond words, i have to say.

i also wanted to tell you all that during the official sound check,
the day before, they asked me to speak some poetry into the mike so
they could get the sound levels right. i recited miss brooks'
kitchenette building. it went out for miles and miles across the
mall. at the end i said, "that was kitchenette building by gwendolyn
brooks." hundreds of tourists burst into applause!

that felt good.

love, elizabeth


And the official version of the poem (the more I read it, especially now in its correct form -- which is half of everything in a poem -- the more I like it):

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

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 (c) 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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