A historic, mesmerizing, glorious, moving, powerful, joyful, triumphant day. A day we will remember forever. A new day.
And, alas, a day in which there was more poetry on the street than on the podium.
Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” may actually be a better poem than most of us appreciated at the time. But when read aloud, a poem is only as good as its delivery... and Alexander’s delivery was, sadly, as wooden as her spoons on oil drums.
It's not my wish to be uncharitable, or cast any shadow on this wondrous day. And I do appreciate the pressure of the moment, and the fact that Obama is a pretty tough act to follow. But why, when in a position to transform millions of minds and hearts with the power of words, why resort to stilted, monotonous recitation? How can we expect our children to learn the joy, the value, the resonance of poetry if we can’t demonstrate it for them?
Elizabeth Alexander could take a page from Barack Obama’s public speaking manual:
- Make eye contact – Sure, there are teleprompters, but the man learns his lines. He never looks down.
- Let the points LAND – Give the key words and ideas the space, tone and emphasis to stand by themselves and breathe... BUT,
- Move it along – Trust the audience’s intelligence, and their ability to follow. Most often, they're a beat ahead. And finally,
- Let it FLOW – Stay open to the opportunity to get caught up in the imagery, the emotion, the message. PRAISE the song, the poem, the day.
“Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."
We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."
We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
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 thy self."
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.”