An Open Letter to Elizabeth Alexander
have long considered whether to write this note about your inaugural poem,
“Praise Song for the Day.”
may well be better to let the matter (and the poem) be forgotten, as I
believe they will be. Or if remembered, remembered only as still another
dull poem written for still another presidential inauguration. I wondered
whether you showed the poem to anyone before you decided it was
“finished.” Surely a clumsy line like “We need to find a place where
we are safe; we walk into that which we cannot yet see” might have been
improved. From a purely musical point of view, didn’t you have
difficulty saying “we walk into that which we cannot yet see?”
sets out to write a bad poem, yet, unfortunately, many bad poems have been
achieved. Just about any poet of any distinction is guilty of writing
badly at times. And I realize that you’ve written far better poems than
the one you displayed for the entire nation to see.
that is what is depressing about it.
was an opportunity to show millions of people—millions of people—what
an exciting thing poetry is. Look at what you gave them. Look at what you
gave all those people who think poetry is dull, genteel, a form of little
interest—a dead thing. You gave great affirmation to their opinion;
without meaning to, and I’m sure with the best of intentions, you drove
still another nail into the coffin of poetry.
sorry to be writing this because I think you are basically a good poet.
But now a bad, banal, rhetorically dull poem will be presented to the
American people as an example of the high reaches of the art. What a