After reading Alexander's poetry, we're pretty psyched about her selection, because there was every chance Maya Angelou was going to get the "poet inaugurate" nod, thanks to Barack's close relationship with Oprah and Oprah's close relationship with Angelou. And seriously? We just couldn't sit through another inauguration poem that had lines like No less to Midas than the mendicant/No less to you now than the mastodon then. No one actually knows what Angelou is talking about half the time, do they, but she gets away with it because, y'know, it's poetry, it's supposed to be mysterious and inscrutable, and Angelou has such a damn beautiful declamatory style. Think we're kidding? Read Angelou's inaugural poem for Bill Clinton here. Huh?
No worries on the inscrutability front with Alexander. The narrative through-line in her poetry is lovely and evocative but easy to follow. And, happily for us, of course Alexander is obsessed with food (she's got to be, she's Barack's poet!). Her poems are loaded with descriptions of food, and with numinous chains of metaphors that use food. Check out a selection of Alexander's poems here; the poem "Neonatology" has 20 occurrences of food/eating imagery. The short poem "Emancipation" is a good example of how Alexander uses food imagery in general (pic is Obama "using" corn cobs while campaigning):
oyster shell, drawstring pouch, dry bones.
Gris gris in the rafters.
Hoodoo in the sleeping nook.
Mojo in Linda Brent’s crawlspace.
Nineteenth century corncob cosmogram
set on the dirt floor, beneath the slant roof,
left intact the afternoon
that someone came and told those slaves
“We’re free.”We're looking forward to The Inauguration more than ever!
*An Alexander interview on Huff Po is here. "I'm thrilled!"
*Alexander will be only the fourth poet to read at a presidential swearing in. Robert Frost read for President John F. Kennedy. Maya Angelou and Miller Williams read at President Clinton's inaugurations.
"Emancipation," from American Sublime, copyright Elizabeth Alexander, all rights reserved.