July 25, 2021
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But Why Was It So Boring?


Theresa Rebeck in the Guardian sums up the Obama inaugration ceremony:

These were my favourite parts:

1. Our new president, who is incredible
2. Two million people on the mall, also incredible
3. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts messing up the oath of office, also incredible, but in a different way
4. Michele Obama's avocado-coloured gloves, fantastic
5. Dick Cheney in a wheel chair
6. Aretha Franklin
7. Aretha Franklin's hat
However, I have to admit two things that would be on my least-favourite list, if I were to make one, would be the string quartet and the poem.

But Why Was It So Boring?
outlookindia.com
1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530

Theresa Rebeck in the Guardian sums up the Obama inaugration ceremony:
These were my favourite parts:

1. Our new president, who is incredible
2. Two million people on the mall, also incredible
3. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts messing up the oath of office, also incredible, but in a different way
4. Michele Obama's avocado-coloured gloves, fantastic
5. Dick Cheney in a wheel chair
6. Aretha Franklin
7. Aretha Franklin's hat

However, I have to admit two things that would be on my least-favourite list, if I were to make one, would be the string quartet and the poem.


I didn't like the art. The song the string quartet played was beautiful, and there is no question that Yo-Yo Ma looked great slashing away at his cello up there in the wind. But the piece was slow and portentous. And then the poem! Elizabeth Alexander seemed nice, but delivering every word in a monotone was a mistake.... Read on the rest of the article

*** 
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? 
[click here for the full poem]
*** 

Incidentally, Elizabeth Alexander, a professor of African American studies at Yale University and personal friend of Obama, is only the fourth poet to have read at an inauguration -- after Robert Frost for John F Kennedy, and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams for Bill Clinton.
 
While The Los Angeles Times called Alexander's poem "less than praiseworthy" and The New Republic described it as "bureaucratic", her publisher Graywolf Press hasn't been dissuaded. They are rushing out an $8 paperback of the poem on 6 February, with a 100,000 first print run . It is already the bestselling (presold) poetry book on Amazon.com and Alexander's 2005 Pulitzer prize finalist American Sublime has soared up to the third spot already. Angelou's "On the Pulse of the Morning," recited in 1993 at President Clinton's inaugural, was a million seller. 

Perhaps the event also lacked the big-name factor.  For John F Kennedy's inauguration as President of the United States Robert Frost wrote a new poem entitled, "Dedication".  And as Orwell Today  points out, 
"But the poet was old (87) and he couldn't see the words because of the sun's glare that bright, cold January day. The poem's newness to him and his unfamiliarity with and uncertainty about the way it went caused him to stumble uncertainly with his voice and tone and he gave up. Instead he fell back on an old one he knew perfectly, and in the most splendidly commanding of voices, recited it impeccably."
Miller Williams, chosen to read in 1997 at Clinton's second swearing-in, had been the most recent inaugural poet. He was quoted by the Associaed Press as saying that Alexander had well completed the inaugural poet's task -- economy, simplicity, telling an American story with "some nicely surprising adjectives." 

But he did have a minor criticism-- not with the poem, but with the presentation. "I wish she had something after the resolution of the poem to let us know clearly that it was over," Williams said. "Had she read it in my living room, I would have said, `Keep your voice up at the end, and nod to the audience and say, "Thank you," when it's over."'
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