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20 January 2009


John B.

I like.

You might enjoy reading this, if you haven't seen it already:


So: will the lab take time off this morning from hunting microbes?


John B, thanks for the link (it was one I hadn't seen).

Regarding the lab, I'm completely fine if they don't show up at all today! We'll either go somewhere mid-day to watch the inauguration - or I'll let them do as they wish and I'll go to a friend's home who lives near to the lab and watch it.

It's a good day.

John B.

Thanks for posting the poem, Pam.

I liked it well enough, but I almost wish that the poet--not just Alexander in this case, but any poet asked to read at such an event--would instead choose a poem to read rather than write one for the occasion. As she was reading and I kept hearing little wisps of Whitman in the lines, I found myself thinking, Wouldn't some well-chosen poem by Whitman be really grand to hear today? Say, stanza 26 of "Song of Myself" (though the line "I hear the trained soprano . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip" might, um, get people's attention). Of all our poets, Whitman's poetry most embodies (my sense of) what this day means. It'd be a risky choice--Whitman is about as sensual a poet as one could be in the 19th century--but then again, this day embodies what can come of risk and what we'll have to risk.

Sorry--I'm prattling.


John B., I think an original poem is appropriate - but I agree that a riskier poem would have been more reflective of the day. Right as I was reading your comment I received an email from Katherine - so modified the post above accordingly. I'll be curious to see what you think of this poem - perhaps not Whitman (but then who is?) - but powerful nonetheless.

John B.

I'm glad I read the poem by Dawes--you're right about its power. I like its sweep across space and time. There's some of that risk I was referring to earlier.

In rereading the Alexander poem, I have to say that those last two lines are really nice: "On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp"--the repetition really helps bring out the meaning of those words, heightening the tension implied in their meaning, and we look for the release. Slyly sensuous, that--but exactly right within the context of the body politic.

Blackswampgirl Kim

Side note: Didn't Frost end up reading an existing poem at JFK's inauguration? I believe that he started reading an original poem... and was struggling, and so fell back on a poem he knew to be one of Kennedy's favorites.

But then again, I'm tired--pretty much exhausted to the bone. And so I might have made that up in my head... or at least part of it.

In fact, maybe it wasn't even Frost, but I'm too lazy to look it up now. I need to go to bed. :) G'night... and thanks for the poems, Pam.

John B.

Frost had written a poem for the occasion, but the wind blew it off the podium just as he was about to read it. So, he recited his own poem "The Gift Outright" from memory.


Kim and John B.,

Two things:

First, this post, from 'One Poet's Notes', regarding the Alexander piece:


Second, I couldn't resist digging up Frost's poem that blew away (I also read where the glare of the sun prevented him from being able to read it) - (there are images of it, in his handwriting, online at various places). It was originally titled 'Dedication', and here it is:

Written in commemoration of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inauguration

Dedication - by Robert Frost

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young amibition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

John B.

That article says, in part, just what I wanted to say but for some reason couldn't quite get out: that poetry tends to be a response to something that has already happened, but the poet commissioned to write something has to, well, invent a response--and then present that as a communal response. An all-but-impossible task, presumptuous in the extreme: "Even I haven't genuinely felt this, but you have to pretend that you feel this way, too." Alexander's plain language is the right way to undercut that, I think. But maybe a poem that speaks precisely to the impossibility of adequately conveying what's going on?

(Hell: What do I know? I'm not a poet--I just try to teach it on occasion.)

As for Frost's poem . . . I think those in the audience can count themselves lucky that, whether it was the sun or the wind, the elements spared them this. "The Gift Outright," indeed. Not bad, but . . . talky.


Yeah, what do I know either (at least you teach it!). But I think I got what you meant, and the article said it too - and I guess that Alexander's poem makes more sense in that context. I agree with you on the Frost poem - and from what I've read, most folks were relieved.

David E. Perry


Always . . .
my visits here,
to these glimpses
of your heart,
your mind:

magic and water and light.

I am grateful for what you have offered up here,
passed along.
Richer for your generosity.

Thank you.


David, a poem! Thank you.

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