Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Inaugural Poet

Robert Frost. Maya Angelou. Miller Williams. Elizabeth Alexander joined that list when she became the fourth poet chosen to write a poem for a presidential inauguration and read it at the event. She was selected in December to participate in President-elect Obama's inauguration this coming Tuesday.

This will not be Alexander's first connection with politics. Her father, Clifford Alexander, served as Secretary of the Army and Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her brother Mark has been an important advisor to the President-elect. However, this is not simply a case of political patronage, as Alexander is an esteemed poet whose choice for this honor has been widely praised. Her five collections of poetry include a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and she has won numerous awards and fellowships. She is currently a professor of African-American Studies at Yale University.

Upon learning of her selection, Alexander released a statement which read, in part, "...I understand that as a country we stand poised to make tremendous choices about our collective future. The distillation of language in poetry, its precision, can help us see sharply in the midst of may conundrums....Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words -- and the worldviews -- we live in."

More about Elizabeth Alexander can be found at her website. Her inaugural poem is scheduled to be released in book form in early February, and will be available at Accent on Books.

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