Poetry and the Inauguration of President Barack Obama

There are so many things that can be said about the history-making events of today, but as a writer and a poet, I was particularly moved by Yale University professor Elizabeth Alexander's poem at Barack Obama's inauguration this afternoon. If you missed the reading earlier today, you can read the transcript courtesy of The New York Times. Elizabeth is a Pulitzer Prize nominated poet, and she very powerfully used the art of words to bring pause and reflection to this historic day.

In this article on BBC.co.uk, it was suggested that today's reading may have been received by the largest audience that a poem has ever had. I hope that listeners and onlookers not only enjoyed those words, but were inspired to read more poetry, and even to pick up a pen and write down a few words of their own. I started writing poetry at age thirteen, inspired by Maya Angelou--but had I not started then, I would certainly be inspired to begin today.

As mentioned in another article from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis/St. Paul, today's reading signaled a "return to poetry's traditional role in elevating an occasion." As someone who has spent countless hours stringing words together in the form of poetry, I know that the magic for me until recently has been mostly in the creation. Finding the right words to paint a picture of one specific moment in time. Building those words within a structure that helps to tell the story. But poetry is meant to be shared. A poem's potential is wasted if it's not read and interpreted, seen through someone else's eyes and filtered through their experiences.

Elizabeth Alexander's poem is one that will now always remind us of this unforgettable historical occasion; the day that Barack Obama officially became the 44th President of the United States. In the spirit of sharing and reflecting, I'd like to add a few lines of my own to the sea of words that are hitting the internet and airwaves today. Here is a poem of my own:

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Barack Obama: Hope Personified

When nothing seemed impossible, we took hope for granted.
Free to laugh, to sing, to explore a world where boundaries did not exist.

History dictates that life's pattern is cyclical,
that depression follows elevation,
but that expansion also follows decrease.

The delicate balance--the ebb and flow
of ideas, of assets, of time.
These waves of change are so much
like the oceans that surround our nations,
isolating us and connecting us at the very same time.

Faith presides and reminds us
that we need to witness the destruction
to understand and appreciate the beauty of rebuilding.

A catastrophic era has ended.
A leaderless nation found rock bottom
and decided not to drown.

What could have been slow, wounded strokes to the surface
will be strong surges toward the sunlight
because a model of wisdom and integrity
has come to lead the way.
He lends strength to our broken spirits,
and deep belief that we can heal.

We will again earn the comfort we once failed to appreciate,
but this time our foundation must be a truer set of ideals.
To be an example, we must act with dignity.
We look to our president and emulate his ways.
We reach to retrieve the hope of yesterday.

photo credit: c r i s

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