Poetry: Red Verses Blue

Not to stoke the fire of division that keeps this country’s government in a perpetual stalemate (because my blog is that important), but today I noticed two things: the presidential inauguration may be the only time the reading of a poem will hold the attention of more than 25 people in a public setting (I say this as fan, not foe), and though the inaugural poem is a relatively young tradition, begun by John F. Kennedy when he invited Robert Frost to read, so far it’s only democrats who have felt it was one worth carrying forward.  (Though democrat Lyndon Johnson declined to invite a poet, stating that he hated them.)

Maya Angelou’s reading of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” for Clinton’s inauguration still gives me goosebumps, as much for its beauty as her authoritative, soulful delivery. “One Today” written and read by Richard Blanco for the inauguration of Obama’s second term had much in common with Angelou’s, though it was perhaps more accessible and less preachy.  Why it is that conservatives are so averse to verse? I can’t think of a more meaningful way to connect people to each other and those they have placed in power. Art is a great translator, no matter the medium. I hope the next republican president chooses poetry for his or her inauguration. It will tell us more about his (or her) character than the speech that follows.

As much as I enjoyed Blanco’s poem today, as well as his reading of it, I think I may prefer the one that a handful of regular ol’ Americans wrote together as an experiment in crowd sourcing by The Takeaway for president Obama:

A People’s Poem for the Inauguration

Say “nation.” In the wake of quarrels, say “hope.”
Be not divisive nor divided.

Say “neighbor.” Say, “What can I do?”
Doors open. Together walk through.
In the hurly-burly of the day’s governing
remember the freedom of peace.

At the dawn of uncertain tomorrows, say “change.”
While darkness floods our spirit, say “light” and shatter
all our scattering shadows.

Dream, “neighbor.” In the face of fear, sing, “mercy.”
Hear unity from voices that speak.

Say that freedom, both the blessing and right,
remain the provenance of open minds.
Acknowledge the dreams that birthed a great nation — say “freedom.”
Speak it into action and watch our dreams reshape the future.

And heart in hand, for the sake of the young,
of the old,
of all those who
wade thru injustice’s tide, say “freedom.”

Say and shout and sing! Progress is a storm and our voices the thunder.

Say “peace” for the hearts of a nation’s people, in times of grief.
Say one, say all. To abandon hope is to further the fall
Say “take my hand” to the downtrodden, the lost.
Sing harmonies that blend in a spectrum of love.

In the dark of failures, say “try”; encourage, persist to light.
Say friend, my hand for your strength, your eyes for my light as we forward together.
Say hope is ours.
Wash away morose pessimism and the failings of the nascent.
Remember our virtue; remember our lofty intent.
In the wake of the struggle, speak, so that together we all may speak courage.

Say “hope,” eyes turned not to the gauzy sky
nor to the brassy gates of power
but to the frost-bitten grass beneath our feet.

I need to hear, again, those antiquated words
in this new light.

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One Comment to “Poetry: Red Verses Blue”

  1. Wow, what a beautiful poem! Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s beautiful and heart-warming, something that can be said in prayer. Thanks for the links, too!

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