Thursday, January 22, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander: Poems & Videos

Read about Elizabeth Alexander at

Read about Elizabeth Alexander at the Poetry Foundation.

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

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.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Here are excerpts from other three poems by Elizabeth Alexander:

From Blues

I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, 'til
my face is creased and swollen,
'til my lips are dry and hot. I
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father's money.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

From Ladders

Filene's department store
near nineteen-fifty-three:
An Aunt Jemima floor
display. Red bandanna,

Apron holding white rolls
of black fat fast against
the bubbling pancakes, bowls
and bowls of pale batter.

This is what Donna sees,
across the "Cookwares" floor,
and hears "Donnessa?" Please,
This can not be my aunt.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

From Race

Sometimes I think about Great-Uncle Paul who left Tuskegee,
Alabama to become a forester in Oregon and in so doing
became fundamentally white for the rest of his life, except
when he traveled without his white wife to visit his siblings—
now in New York, now in Harlem, USA—just as pale-skinned,
as straight-haired, as blue-eyed as Paul, and black. Paul never told anyone
he was white, he just didn’t say that he was black, and who could imagine,
an Oregon forester in 1930 as anything other than white?
The siblings in Harlem each morning ensured
no one confused them for anything other than what they were, black.
They were black! Brown-skinned spouses reduced confusion.
Many others have told, and not told, this tale.
When Paul came East alone he was as they were, their brother.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Elizabeth Alexander Videos

A Reading by Elizabeth Alexander (The Online Newshour Poetry Series, January 13, 2009)

Elizabeth Alexander Describes Inauguration Plans (The Newshour with Jim Lehrer)

Video of Elizabeth Alexander Reading the Inaugural Poem

Elizabeth Alexander on The Colbert Report


Just for Fun—One of my Irish friends sent me a link to the following video the other day:


Here are the beginning lyrics:

O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara
There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

You don't believe me, I hear you say
But Barack's as Irish, as was JFK
His granddaddy's daddy came from Moneygall
A small Irish village, well known to you all

Toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a lama
There's no one as Irish As Barack O'Bama

He's as Irish as bacon and cabbage and stew
He's Hawaiian he's Kenyan American too
He’s in the white house, He took his chance
Now let’s see Barack do Riverdance

Toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a lama
There's no one as Irish As Barack O'Bama

From Kerry and cork to old Donegal
Let’s hear it for Barack from old moneygall
From the lakes if Killarney to old Connemara
There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama

You can read the rest of the lyrics here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have reviews of three winter picture books for very young children that were written in verse.

Laura Salas has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.


tanita✿davis said...

Ohhhhhhh, wow.
Her poetry!! I like them all, but the poem Race just slays me. Someone asked me if EA was an African American, and, watching the inauguration on a tiny computer screen, I shrugged and said, "I don't know, maybe."

As she says, "what a strange thing is race." And this strikes me especially with my ivory partner. Hmm.
Incidentally - I'd heard the name of that Irish group is Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys, which made me snicker. My friends in Dublin say this song makes them wince. A lot.

What's funnier still is one of the leaders of the Scottish National Party -- the group who wants to be separate from England -- has invited Mr. President to a Burns' Night supper on Monday. Scotland is claiming he's Scottish, Ireland is claiming he's Irish. I'm terribly proud he's all of ours.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I liked Alexander's inaugural poem.

Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys have changed their name to the Corrigan Brothers. I checked out the Hardy Drew website before I posted the video the other day at Wild Rose Reader. I like to give credit for poems or songs to the right people.

I'll have to see what my friend Jim, a former Dubliner, has to say about the Obama song.

Anonymous said...

That Corrigan Brothers song is totally going to stick in my head for days.

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks for the poems and links. Definitely gave me a better idea of Elizabeth Alexander.


Elaine Magliaro said...


I know what you mean about the song sticking in one's head. I found myself singing the refrain the other day after I had watched the video a couple of times.


I had never heard of Elizabeth Alexander before--so I wanted to find out more about her and her poetry.

laurasalas said...

Elaine, Thanks for this thorough post! I love Ladders especially, though I really like the inauguration poem too (better on the page than in her reading, in my opinion).

Elaine Magliaro said...


I agree with what you said about the inaugural poem. I like it much better after seeing it printed in stanszas--as Alexander had written it. I thought it read with a better rhythm.