Thursday, December 18, 2008

Poet Elizlabeth Alexander to Read at Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander will be the fourth poet to read at a presidential inauguration. The others are: Robert Frost (1961, Kennedy); Maya Angelou (1993, Clinton); and Miller Williams (1997, Clinton).
She was born in New York City, grew up in D.C., and was educated at Yale (BA), Boston University (MA), and University of Pennsylvania (PhD).

Here is the biography from her home page: is a poet, essayist, playwright, and professor at Yale University. She is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. She is a professor at Yale University, and for the academic year 2007-2008 she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
In this poem, Alexander addresses students of poetry--all of us, if we count speech as poetry. She refers to Sterling Brown, a professor at Howard University and Harlem Renaissance poet. This poem asserts that "I," within poetry, is always a dramatic creation. She asks writers to look beyond cliches to find an authentic "human voice."

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

c. Elizabeth Alexander, from American Sublime (Minneapolis: Gray Wolf, 2005).