Elizabeth Alexander Reads from American Blue

For Something Blue, the final day of Freedom to Marry Week, I’m sharing a video of Elizabeth Alexander reading two poems: ‘Ars Poetica #92: Marcus Garvey on Elocution’ and ‘Ars Poetica #100: I Believe’ from American Blue.


The Poetry Foundation has a nice sampling of Elizabeth Alexander’s poems to read, and includes a summary of her career to date.

Elizabeth Alexander read at Emory University in Atlanta Wednesday evening to an appreciative audience. The venue was Glenn Memorial Church, a large, neoclassical structure, with arched windows, Corinthian pilasters, and vaulted ceilings, everything washed in cream paint, lit with a golden light – an ideal location for a poetry reading.

She stood at a podium, dressed simply in a dark suit and white blouse, after first being introduced by Professor Kevin Young as a ‘poet of history.’

She read a cross-section of poems from several collections, many of which were recollections of her life, her family’s lives, and the history leading up her time, told with a vocabulary rich in metaphor and magical realism. Alexander expressed gratitude to her parents’ and grandparents’ generations for doing the hard work it took for her and her peers to realize their dreams.

Several times the audience broke out into applause after the reading of a particular poem, but the one that received the loudest appreciation was ‘Praise Song for the Day.’ While she was reading ‘Praise Song’ I felt Barack Obama’s presence in the room, and shivers went up and down my arms. Afterwards Alexander said, ‘I wasn’t ever going to read that poem again. I wrote it for that day, it was a part of the day, and now it is a part of history. Besides, I don’t want people to like it more than they like my other poems! But I’ve done it, I’ve gotten it out of the way.’

I liked ‘Praise Son of the Day’ from the moment I heard it, but I also agree with Alexander, that the poem is now infused with the memories of one of the greatest historical moments of our lifetime. Later generations will have to judge her poem as it is written. For me, there’s no separating my joy of the day from the poem. It’s all wrapped up in a glow of pride, relief, and awe.


My recap of the reading wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Holly Dunlap, poet and author of Lost Kite, who met me at the reading. We went to a funky little sushi-falafel diner across from Emory after the reading, and had a nice time getting to know each other.

Logo for the Some/thing carnival hosted at The OTHER mother

Logo for the Some/thing carnival hosted at The OTHER mother

Terry Gross interviews Natasha Trethewey on Fresh Air

Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio’s show Fresh Air, interviewed poet Natasha Trethewey the day before Barack Obama’s inauguration.

During the interview Trethewey speaks as both a poet and as a biracial American. Terry Gross asks Trethewey what it means for her to live in a country with a biracial president, highlighting how 40 years ago interracial marriage was against the law in her native state of Mississippi. As I listened to the interview, it naturally came to mind the current struggles gay Americans are now living, and the discrimination they face in their desire to marry. Will it take another 40 years for all Americans to enjoy equal civil rights?

The interview is fourteen minutes long, but in the first three minutes Trethewey recites her poem, My Mother Dreams Another Country, from her collection Native Guard, for which she won the Pulitzer prize in 2007.

Fresh Air, Terry Gross interview with Natasha Trethewey

If you follow this link to Online NewsHour you can read and listen to Myth and Miscegenation, also from her collection Native Guard.

Natasha Trethewey teaches poetry in metro Atlanta, at Emory University. Maybe I’m biased toward a poet from my hometown, but I must say Natasha Trethewey would have made an excellent choice to write a poem for Barack Obama’s inauguration, not only because of her skill as a poet and a historian, but also because of her melodic voice. Which is not to slight Elizabeth Alexander, who I think did a wonderful job, considering the challenges she faced.

Edward Byrne, on his blog One Poet’s Notes, discusses the various responses to Alexander’s poem, and he includes the video of her performance, as well as her finished poem. There’s also a long banner of comments from different writers that might be of interest.