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By Teri Blair



The Poets, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2011, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On June 11, 2011, four people will stand on a stage in rural America to debate one question: Does poetry matter?


19 years ago, a man named John Davis started an amateur philosophy contest called the Great American Think-Off. He wanted to give ordinary people a chance to voice their opinions on serious issues. Each year a question is announced in January. People have three months to submit a 750-word essay speaking in favor or opposition to the topic. Four finalists are selected to debate their views before a live audience, an audience who determines the winner. Each of the four receive a $500 cash prize, travel expenses, a medal, and the winner is declared “America’s Greatest Thinker.” John’s two-decade-old idea has flourished. In 2010 (Do the rich have an obligation to the poor?) there were hundreds of entries representing nearly every state.


I was barely awake on January 1st when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer announced this year’s question. I was listening to my bedside clock radio when I heard her say Does poetry matter? My eyes opened in a shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that day thinking about the question. Before I started a poetry group, poems didn’t matter that much to me. I admired poets, was in awe of poetry, but it wasn’t until I started reading poetry in earnest that it began to penetrate my life in any meaningful way.

Emily Dickinson, April 2011, photo © 2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.

Now I see poetry everywhere: imprinted on the sidewalks of St. Paul, recited in films like Invictus, and incorporated into presidential inaugurations. Poetry distills events of our common human experience into a few words. I’m informed, assured I’m not alone, and given direction. I’ve read Bill Holm’s “Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back” dozens of times since my dad died. It gives me permission to set down the pressure to do something about death. I’ve committed May Sarton’s “Now I Become Myself” to memory, saying it over and over as I swim laps at the YWCA, continually calling myself to authenticity.

I knew the day I heard the question that I’d enter the contest. Not to win, but to document what happened in our poetry group. The words fell onto the page, and I felt closure for the group that had been so hard to disband the previous year.

On May 1st I’ll find out if I’m one of the four finalists. I hope I’m chosen, and I really hope I’m not. I want to share what my poetry group discovered, and can’t stand the thought of standing on a stage trying to think on my feet. I wasn’t on the high school debate team for good reason.


I want to hear from you: Does poetry matter? If it doesn’t, were you subjected to obscure passages in high school English class that left you with a bad taste in your mouth? Does poetry seem a lofty and inaccessible pursuit for snobs?

If poetry does matter to you, how come? Do you have a favorite poet?

Whether I’m nervous on the stage (or at ease in the audience), I plan to be at the Think-Off on June 11th. Maybe I’ll see you there.


To read more about the Great American Think-Off: www.think-off.org.



Ted Kooser’s Studio, Dwight, Nebraska (pop. 259), January 2010,
all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


________________________________


About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and published a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time . In March 2010, she wrote Discovering The Big Read , a piece about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri spent February 2011 with visiting writers and artists at the Vermont Studio Center, walking, writing, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains. Her last piece for red Ravine, Emily’s Freedom, is a photo essay about what she learned on a writing pilgrimage to Amherst, Massachusetts to visit the home of poet Emily Dickinson.

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by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

IMG_0656 window

Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


IMG_0658 ANNA

I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


IMG_0651 porch


Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


♦     ♦     ♦


After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


IMG_0654 From The Garden Large

View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

 

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

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Letter From Elizabeth Alexander, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Our Poetry & Meditation Group began meeting again in January. We celebrated new beginnings with the poetry of Ruth Stone (the poet mentioned in Carolyn Flynn’s piece An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott). This Friday we’ll read the work of Pablo Neruda.

It’s hard to believe it was over a year ago when we gathered to learn more about poet Elizabeth Alexander. We went around the circle and read her poems. Then, in gratitude, sent a card thanking her for her work. A few weeks later, she would be reading at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

A few of us met in South Minneapolis that historic Winter day to watch the inauguration on the big screen at Sabathani. When Elizabeth got up to read, we knew a little about her life; we had read her poems. We never dreamed the poet would write back. Then, one frosty day in March, her letter arrived in Teri’s mailbox. We passed the parchment during poetry group:



My dear friends in Minnesota,

Thank you for your lovely card and my apologies for my late reply. I’ve found myself in an unusual whirlwind for the last few months.

It was indeed an honor to speak at the inauguration. One of the wonderful gifts that comes from reading is hearing from people like you. What a precious group you have! I hope it continues to flourish.

Yours,

Elizabeth



Last week I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation. At the end of the segment Henry Louis Gates Uncovers ‘Faces Of America’ I was surprised by the voice of Elizabeth Alexander. She was responding to what Gates had uncovered after he traced her ancestry back to Edward Honeywell and Esther Power and King John of England. I thought of Elizabeth at the presidential podium. And I thought about her taking the time to respond to a card from a small Minnesota poetry group. How a letter from a young poet transcended the political. It meant the world to us. The card, the letter, the poems — the poet’s lineage.


Elizabeth Alexander At The Inauguration, Yale University, Letter From A Young Poet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January & March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

-related to posts:  Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), The Poet Writes Back — Gary Soto, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, The Poet’s Letter — Robert Bly, Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month

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Postcard From Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In February, we read the work of Billy Collins in our monthly Poetry & Meditation Group. Though he was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, I had not been introduced to his body of work (with the exception of his popular poem about mothers and sons, “The Lanyard“). But after reading “Japan” and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” out loud, and listening in silence while others read his poetry, I became a big fan. 

As is our custom, at the end of the night, the founder of our Poetry Group passed around a card for us to sign, a token of our gratitude to the poet. Each month, she addresses, seals and stamps the envelope, then mails our card off to the poet the next day. We don’t have expectations; it’s enough to share their poetry.

But once in a while, the Universe responds in kind. When we arrived at the March Poetry & Meditation Group, here is what we found:


___________________________________________


Liu Yung By Billy Collins, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To the Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group!


Liu Yung

This poet of the Sung dynasty is so miserable.
The wind sighs around the trees,
a single swan passes overhead,
and he is alone on the water in his skiff.

If only he appreciated life
in eleventh-century China as much as I do —
no loud cartoons on television,
no music from the ice cream truck,

just the calls of elated birds
and the steady flow of the water clock.


Billy Collins


Poem reprinted with permission of the author,
Copyright 2006 Billy Collins.


___________________________________________


Billy Collins describes poetry as “the only surviving history we have of human emotion.” We were thrilled and honored to hear from him. And it seems like a great way to kick off National Poetry Month on red Ravine. I am continually surprised by the generosity of famous writers to give back to those of us who find ourselves at humble beginnings. Maybe it’s a lesson to pay attention to — that no matter our status, we are all at the beginning. Every poem, short story, essay, and blog post takes us back to Beginner’s Mind.


National Poetry Month at The Academy of American Poets

We hope you will join in the celebration during National Poetry Month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets and is a month-long national celebration of poetry.

According to poets.org, the concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media — to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. The hope is to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.


The goals of National Poetry Month are to:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry


On April 16th our Poetry & Meditation Group will be reading the poems of Yusef Komunyakaa. Maybe you’ll want to start your own poetry group. Or purchase “Ballistics,” the latest from Billy Collins. Poem In Your Pocket Day is coming up on April 30th. And here are 30 more ways to honor poets and poems. Whatever you choose to do, celebrate poetry!


To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  USA 42 --- ALASKA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  To The Teri Blair Meditation & Poetry Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

-related posts and links: NPR: Reading List & Interview with Billy Collins, Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), Billy Collins Reads “The Lanyard” on YouTube , PBS Online NewsHour: Billy Collins Interview, December 10th, 2001 — the week following his inaugural reading at the Library of Congress after becoming U.S. Poet Laureate, Poetry 180 — a poem a day for american high schools

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Nikki Giovanni At The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Nikki Giovanni At The Fitzgerald Theater, along with MPR host, Kerri Miller, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and celebrations are going on all over the country. We watched a couple of PBS programs last night on Lincoln’s youth in Indiana and Illinois. The tall man with the high-water pants lost his mother from “milk sickness” at the early age of 34. I was struck by how much he looked like Nancy Hanks Lincoln. He helped carve the pegs for her coffin.

Lincoln loved and understood the importance of words and there have been no shortage of books written about him. I listened to an NPR program on the way home from work this week: Three Books Explore Lincoln’s Complex Genius by Eric Foner. In his reviews of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, James Oakes’ The Radical and the Republican, and Richard Carwardine’s Lincoln, Foner dives into Lincoln’s relationship to power and passivity, and his complex friendship with black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

In a couple of lines, Foner, author of Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, sums up why Abraham Lincoln is still one of the most important figures of our modern times:


Every generation of Americans reinvents Abraham Lincoln in its own image. Politicians from conservatives to communists, civil rights activists to segregationists, have claimed him as their own. Lincoln is important to us not because of how he chose his cabinet or what route his train took to Washington, but because the issues of his time still resonate in ours — relations between the state and federal governments, the definition of American citizenship, the long-term legacy of slavery.

Lincoln was also a key player in the execution of thirty-eight Dakota Sioux on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. The hangings followed trials which condemned over 300 participants in the 1862 Dakota Conflict, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The complexity and controversy of the decisions he made while president are a testament to his own internal battles and the time in which he lived.

In Birchbark Books last weekend, I picked up Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. She won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. And one of the most fascinating sites I found is The Abraham Lincoln Bookshop with historic and rare authographs and photographs of Lincoln.

The site also offers a whole section on Women’s History, from the women’s point of view. There I found Catherine Clinton’s, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life, a chronicle of Mary Todd Lincoln:


Born into an aristocratic Kentucky family, she was an educated, well-connected Southern daughter, and when she married a Springfield lawyer she became a Northern wife—an experience mirrored by thousands of her countrywomen.

The Lincolns endured many personal setbacks—including the death of a child and defeats in two U.S. Senate races—along the road to the White House. Mrs. Lincoln herself suffered scorching press attacks, but remained faithful to the Union and her wartime husband. She was also the first presidential wife known as the “First Lady.”

I think the women in Lincoln’s life are as compelling as the man. Catherine Clinton will have a virtual book signing on Valentine’s Day if you’d like to join in.



Love Poems, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bicycles: Love Poems, on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, January 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



After all this, the event closest to my heart is a Birthday Tribute and Wreath-Laying Ceremony on February 12th, 8am EST at the Lincoln Memorial. President Barack Obama has been invited to commemorate the 16th president at the Memorial erected following Lincoln’s Centennial. He invited poet and author Nikki Giovanni to recite her new work, written especially for the Bicentennial.

When Teri, Liz, and I went to see Nikki read at the Fitzgerald last month, she hinted at the contents of her poem, something I don’t want to miss. Teri sent the following email out to our Poetry Group a few days later:


Poetry Hounds,

Following closely on Elizabeth Alexander’s reading at Obama’s Inauguration, another poet is being called upon to read her work.

February 12th, 2009 is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. At the Lincoln Memorial on 2-12, there will be a special wreath-laying ceremony with a program that includes poet Nikki Giovanni. It will be at 7:00 a.m. (Minnesota time). I’ve included a link; I presume it will be broadcast widely.

Last week, QM, Liz, & I heard Nikki Giovanni live at the Fitzgerald in St. Paul. She blew us out of the water. She’s 65, was active in the Civil Rights Movement, teaches at Virginia Tech (where the massacre occurred in 2007), and was like seeing a touch of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

Keep poetry alive, man.

Love, Teri

I’m going to try to get my Night Owl self up early! Happy 200th Birthday, Abe. Your life and legacy are alive and well in the year 2009. And when we attend our Poetry Group tonight, we will all be celebrating the poets and poetry honoring the day you were born.


-posted on red Ravine on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, February 12th, 2009

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Wet Cement, part of the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk project, Saint Paul, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Wet Cement, part of the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk project, Saint Paul, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Wet cement,
Opportunity.
It only takes a second
To change this spot
forever.








Another poem from the streets of Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk. I wrote the first piece about the project a few months ago (Sidewalk Poetry — Public Art At Its Best) after attending the opening in Frogtown last October. The project is a collaboration between Saint Paul Public Works and Public Art Saint Paul. It was spearheaded by Marcus Young, Artist In Residence of the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The untitled poem in the photograph Wet Cement was written by Zoë Jameson. I ran into Zoë and her family at the opening; they were celebrating on the sidewalk near her poem. She kneeled on the cement next to “Opportunity,” and smiled up at her mother who proudly shot photographs of her daughter, the poet.

To view Zoë’s poem in person, here’s a link to the map of the place in Saint Paul where the poem is located. I can’t think of a better way to stay warm this Winter. Or if you’re a teacher, you can print the map out for your class in preparation for a Spring field trip during National Poetry Month this April.

Oh, and one of our readers spotted a poem near the Fitzgerald Theater. She left these words about the project in a comment on red Ravine:


It was absolutely freezing when I ran two blocks from my parking spot to the Fitz; I couldn’t wait to get into the warm lobby. But I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw one of these poems in the sidewalk. A few steps later, there was another one. When the weather is more cooperative, I’d love to spend a lazy day walking and reading.

It’s really quite lovely to have poetry in our lives this way…coming up from beneath our feet.

Poetry rising from the Earth. If you are heading into downtown St. Paul to see a show, keep your heart open, eyes to the ground, breath connected to the bottom of your feet.



Zoë Jameson has always enjoyed literature because it helps her get inside other people’s heads. When she isn’t reading, she enjoys running, traveling, playing the viola, and spending time with friends. She attends Central High School and has lived in Saint Paul with her parents and her dog, Perk, for over a decade.

— bio from the book Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

-related to posts: Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day)Celebrate Poetry (Let Me Count The Ways

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Tickets, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Tickets, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



A few weeks ago, our monthly Poetry Group read the work of Elizabeth Alexander, the poet selected to read at the inauguration of Barack Obama. When we sat down to dinner the next day after work, Liz announced, “I took a half day off Tuesday. Want to go to the Riverview for the inauguration?”  It took a few seconds to sink in. Then, with no hesitation, I said, “Yes, let’s do it. I’ll ask for time off, too.”

Elizabeth Alexander, a 46-year-old professor of African American Studies at Yale, and author of five books of poetry, will be only the 4th poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Robert Frost was the very first during President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. When it came time to read, Frost, blinded by the sun, could not see his notes and quickly moved to Plan B. He recited from memory another poem from his prolific body of work.

Maya Angelou read for President Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration in 1993. And for President Clinton’s second, he chose Miller Williams in 1997. It’s been a long 12 years since a poet has had the honor of reading at an inauguration. It’s important to notice this detail; it’s a strong indicator that the Arts matter to the upcoming administration.

I was moved by the poetry of Elizabeth Alexander. She was only a one year old on August 28th, 1963 when her father, a civil rights advisor to President Johnson, and her mother, Adele, brought her to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. On January 20th, 2009, she will read at the swearing-in of the first African American U.S. president.


I am obviously profoundly honored and thrilled. Not only to have a chance to have some small part of this extraordinary moment in American history……This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power, that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference and that words have tremendous possibilities, and those possibilities are not empty.

Elizabeth Alexander from the Washington Post article, Selection Provides Civil Rights Symmetry



Riverview Marquee, outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Time Moves On, inside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Under The Marquee, outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We’ll hope to have free tickets and front row seats to the Riverview Theater’s screening of the inauguration (you can also watch it free at the downtown Minneapolis Central Library). The Riverview doors open at 9:30am CST with the viewing lasting until around 1pm. And on the wide Riverview screen, behind the original late 1940’s vintage curtains:



11:30am EST — If you have tickets to the Inauguration ceremony, you must have passed through security by this time.

  • Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks: Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Invocation: Dr. Rick Warren
  • Aretha Franklin will sing
  • Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office
  • Music composed by John Williams and performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill.

12:00 Noon EST — As specified by the U.S. Constitution (20th Amendment), presidential terms of office begin and end at 12:00 noon on January 20.

  •  Barack Obama will take the oath of office, which is this simple, 35-word, statement: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

12:05pm EST (approx) — President Barack Obama will give his inaugural address, speaking to the nation and world, for the first time, as President of the United States, followed by:

  • Poem: Elizabeth Alexander
  • Benediction: The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
  • The National Anthem: The United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters”

 

It’s been almost two years since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. For those who supported and voted for him, it’s the end of a long journey through a couple of grueling years of Presidential politics. For those who did not, it is a time-honored moment in our country’s history, and on the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, one you will not want to pass up.

I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than to take time off of work on Tuesday to listen to Barack Hussein Obama II be sworn in as our 44th President. That we will be graced with a moment of poetry falling on the listening ears of millions of people across the world, offers the promise of poetic justice — another chance to keep the magic of poetry alive.


In that moment, really I am the vessel for the poem. It’s not about the poet at that moment, it’s about the poem.

— Elizabeth Alexander from the NPR interview, Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A ‘Challenge’



Longfellow, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Green, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.3 Lights, mural outside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Reflecting, inside the vintage Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



EPILOGUE


Poems were meant to be read out loud. That’s part of the joy of hearing others read live in a poetry group. Mende Vocabulary is one of the poems beautifully read by one member at our last poetry group and can be found, along with The Last Quatrain, and other poems, in Elizabeth Alexander’s piece, The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’.”

The essay explores historical poetry and fiction through such works as Robert Hayden’s Middle Passage (which he first published in 1943 and continued to publish in revision as late as 1962), Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Arthur Schomburg’s 1925 essay The Negro Digs Up His Past.



Mende Vocabulary


by Elizabeth Alexander


they
my father
our father
your father
my mother
my book
his house
one ship
two men
all men
good man
bad man
white man
black man

I eat
he eats
we eat
they sleep
I see God
did I say it right?
we sleep
I make
he makes
they have eaten

this book is mine
that book is his
this book is ours
I am your friend
here
now
that
there
then



The Last Quatrain


by Elizabeth Alexander


and where now
and what now
the black white space



 

If we contemplate the Amistad as a ship without mothers, the utter absence of mothers in a violently formed society; if we wonder what people dreamed in their captivity, we might begin to understand what they lost, what it took to build themselves up again, and what it might take to move forward.

It is the unique potential of poetry to be able to locate and activate what is in the imagination. Art takes us to knowing that may have no other way of being found, and that is one of the very things we need in order to move more intelligently forward. 

— Elizabeth Alexander

– poems and final quote from an essay by Elizabeth Alexander on historical poetry and fiction, The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’’ from The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:3, Summer 2005. Copyright©2005 by Duke University Press.




RESOURCES & READINGS


To read more about Elizabeth Alexander, Amistad, poetry, and the upcoming inauguration schedule, below are links to the resources used in this essay:

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Presidential Inauguration at the Riverview Theater – Riverview’s page on their screening of the inauguration, Tuesday (Jan 20th): 10:30AM CST
Inauguration Day 2009 Schedule of Activities and Events — details and times for 2009 Inaugural Events, along with an hours, minutes, seconds countdown
Words on the Inauguration at the Poet’s Website, Elizabeth Alexander – “Words matter. Language matters. We live in and express ourselves with language, and that is how we communicate and move through the world in community.”

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Inaugural Poet Part Of History – Again – part of the Road To The Inauguration Series on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric
The Inaugural Poet: Selection Provides Civil Rights Symmetry – article in the Washington Post by Michael E. Ruanein, Thursday, December 18, 2008
Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A ‘Challenge’ — listen to the NPR interview with Elizabeth Alexander, December 18th, 2008
Weaving Words For The Inaugural Poem — listen to NPR Host Scott Simon ask Elizabeth Alexander for a sneak peek, January 17th, 2009

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The Negro Digs Up Her Past: ‘‘Amistad’’ by Elizabeth Alexander The South Atlantic Quarterly 104:3, Summer 2005. Copyright©2005 by Duke University Press. — document from the author’s website, an excellent essay on the significance of historical poetry and fiction
The Amistad Comes to Life! — lesson planning article at Education World on teaching the story of The Amistad across all grades, a curriculum to bring life to the story of the revolt on the Amistad in the early 1800’s. Great links, one to the historic sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
The Mende Language – a few word translations from the Mende language at Education World, part of the curriculum for the complete story of the Amistad (link above) and the role Josiah Gibbs, a language professor at Yale University in New Haven, played in finding a translator for the Africans so their side of the story could be told.



Circles Within Circles, 1950s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Casting Light, vintage 1950s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Circles Within Circles, Casting Light 1950’s lamp at the Riverview Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 19th, 2009, day before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama

-with gratitude to Teri who took the leap and started our Poetry Group over a year ago, has provided strong leadership, and helps Keep Poetry Alive!

-related to posts: Out With The Old, In With The Old (Recycled Fashion Goes To Washington, DC), If You Can’t Say Something Nice…, Why It Won’t Matter To You That I’m Voting For Obama, The Politics Of Primary Season 2008 (A Presidential Primer)

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