January 22, 2009

Praise Song for That Day

Marc Comtois

Yesterday, Dan Yorke was talking about the inauguration poem, "Praise Song for the Day", by Elizabeth Alexander and asking for impressions. For his part, Dan thought that it was a solid effort that was essentially a snapshots across America (a "literary split screen" as Dan called it). He thought that it could have been improved upon both stylistically and in the way it was presented. His callers ran the gamut--people confessed to being confused, uplifted, or...whatever. Overall, it was a good bit of "lit-crit" on the radio. For my part, I shot off a quick email that Dan read on the air:

Dan, I agree….a “literary split screen” on a day in the life is a good way to put it. But the end [of the poem] is important:

”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.“

See, it’s not about just any day, Dan, but that PARTICULAR day. The day when the ONE (Obama) has ascended. To me it was yet one more creepy, though predictable, aspect of the whole over-the-top, messianic feel of this inauguration. Another example of people thinking that, somehow, the election of a politician has single-handedly made everything better. Simplistic.

I've tried to explain this before, but historian and commentator Victor Davis Hanson has honed in and hit on what really bothers me:
I distilled from the press coverage and the crowds and the punditry yesterday that for all too many suddenly a vote for Obama redeems America. Now, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, for the first time in their lives they are apparently proud of the United States....So I am surprised that suddenly the election of a single individual means that we are united, patriotic, proud of America? Suddenly Okinawa or Antietam, or all those who died at the Argonne, are ours to claim again?

....But America was always ours, the public, and the nation transcends the proposition of whether Obama gets elected or not—given that the United States, in its worst hour, was better than the alternatives at their best. So I think it would be wise to cool it on the “I am now proud of America” rhetoric. If getting your way means suddenly the dead at Iwo or those who were blown up in B-17s over Germany are at last your own and matter, then we are in deep trouble.

History did not begin on January 20, 2009.

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The word of the week is "hagiography".

Posted by: Patrick at January 22, 2009 12:59 PM

Patrick...good word!

Posted by: Marc at January 22, 2009 1:13 PM

Most of us who supported Obama chuckle at the hype. I voted for him knowing he would not make my teeth whiter, guarantee my mortgage payments, relieve me of 30 pounds, magically restore Tom Brady's ACL, divert snowstorms from Rhode Island, etc.
I voted for him because I felt he would make better executive decisions than the other guy, or many of the guys who made them prior to Jan. 20, 2009.

Posted by: rhody at January 22, 2009 3:20 PM

"I felt he would make better executive decisions than the other guy, or many of the guys who made them prior to Jan. 20, 2009."

If that turns out to be true, I'd say: keep going with your gut, Rhody!

Posted by: George at January 22, 2009 5:55 PM

I thought I learned in high school that poetry was absolutely not supposed to be read in a sing-songy, affected voice.

Have the rules changed, or has Elizabeth Alexander just confused a generation about the nature of poetry readings?

Posted by: Andrew at January 22, 2009 11:12 PM

I prefer the poetry slam style myself (and you won't find sing-songy voices there, believe me).

Posted by: rhody at January 23, 2009 1:05 PM

This Vincent Hansel person certainly takes himself seriously. Geez.

Posted by: Phil at January 25, 2009 8:38 AM
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