An entire nation listened as our 44th President, Barack Obama, swore the oath signifying his position for four more years as commander and chief of the United States of America. Along with the historic pageantry, we were treated to a superb choir, the marine band, three celebrity singers and a young poet. This last position, that of Inaugural Poet, was first created for Robert Frost by President Kennedy. More than three decades later Bill Clinton too called on a poet to recite, that poet being Maya Angelou. Both Frost and Angelou were already acclaimed poets with followers that branched far beyond the modest recognition most literary writers attain, yet Obama sought out the relatively obscure Richard Blanco.
As Blanco came to the podium I could not help but think how unused to poetry we Americans have become. How rarely we listen as images and ideas filtered through emotions are recited to us. What a challenge this presents poets who face our world and try to reach all of us…
In his inaugural poem, Blanko evoked Americana from one shore clear across to the other, showing us “millions of faces” along the way. As images of day came “yawning to life” I was reminded of Woody Guthrie, “spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains” and Walt Whitman, who dare as he may would have loved “apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows begging our praise.” Blanco pushes forward:
“All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
The same light on blackboard’s with lessons for the day:
Equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
The “I have a dream” we keep dreaming
Or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
The empty desks of twenty children marked absent
Today, and forever…”
Words that conjure our own prophet of peace, Martin Luther King, Jr., brandished alongside the irrevocable violence one citizen caused our nation’s children, clustered in a stanza that shot us toward “one light breathing color into stained glass” and onward to mothers whose living children still “slide into the day.” Our paradox. Dreaming for a better tomorrow as we mourn heinous violence. Our conundrum. A country of staunch individualists desperate for bridging commonality.
Mid-way through his poem Blanco pauses on a one word sentence. He directs us to “Breathe.” Essential to life. Essential to maintain our planet. Essential to any agenda is the very air that sustains us. A physical reminder of the living current sweeping around our globe carrying all the sounds and minerals we infuse it with all day long.
Air is not the only commonality that Blanco evokes, “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes” brought us up off the earth toward the same hopeful place Maya Angelo suggested in her extraordinary inaugural poem twenty years ago:
“Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the Dream.”
Returning to Blanco’s poem, in the final imagery he brings us home in “the plum blush of dusk.” Reminding us to keep our eyes up,
“…And always one moon
Like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop…”
Blanco dances us along this journey, this homage to time, from the natural world to our familial lineage, captured into one day, “One Today.” Blanco beckons us all to follow with new resolutions, with possibilities streaming from the “Freedom Tower” to a backyard “clothes line” with determination from migrant workers to algebra teachers to find life-sustaining hope. Perhaps, in remembrance of our poets and the syllables they count in crafted meter, the echo of the past they cull from dusty shelves to the “new constellation” yet unnamed, poetry itself is calling us to join together.
For what else can we offer each other, if not the chance to make a better today, to circle back home at the end of it, nestle in to the warmth found there, and know we each did our very best for each other.
Please note: All references come from Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem, “One Today,” with the exception of Maya Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, “A Rock, A River, A Tree.” Follow the above links for the complete text.
18 thoughts on “An Entire Nation Listened”
As I listened to Blanco’s poem, my heart was moved by his words, but saddened by the fact poetry appears to forgotten in our busy days…thanks for putting such wonderful words to my feelings.
Perhaps this is a new beginning for poetry? I will hope so! And thanks for reading!
Yes, I too listened. Such an evocative poem, and so symbolic, a young gay Hispanic .So imaginative…
beautiful 9c……poetry is often hard to crack at the first listening, but ‘one today’ really spoke to me and felt like the perfect compliment to President Obama’s address. one was political, the other poetic, but both were about ‘we, the people’, breathing together….sharing the same sun, and ground and time. makes me feel very lucky to be a part of it all….thanks for your wonderful post….
thank you for the push to write about it… you being there set the whole post in motion!
A group of local poets gathers at River Arts the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month to write, listen and comment on their work. Anyone of any age is welcome and you can show up when you can. It is a rich experience.. this mix of voices.
So glad that poetry is alive in Vermont!
Such a great post. So true. Love it 🙂
I didn’t listen. I am tired of artful lies and pabulum from this charlatan. As for his choice of poet, he clearly chose someone who deals in sycophancy, which is the opposite of poetry.
always worth listening…
AWESOME COVERAGE of an AWESOME HISTORICAL EVENT. I think Richard Blanco’s did a fantastic job on composing and the delivery of “One Today.” I also love the way you have broken it down for us in highlights, even working in Ms. Maya Angelou, Woody Guthrie and Walt Whitman’s parallel expressions. Ow! Good stuff. Thanks for sharing your vantage view. I have enjoyed you once again. 🙂
Thank you so much for reading… I’m so glad you enjoyed my “vantage”!
Es ist für mich nicht einfach, trotz Uebersetzung diesen ganzen Anlass und die Poesie zu verstehen. Aber dein Bericht über dieses Ereignis hat mir sehr gefallen.
Liebe Grüsse. Ernst
I am glad you enjoyed my view of the inaugural poem. However, if possible, a reply in English would help me!!
This is an eloquent meditation on a special historical moment. Blanco’s recitation of his poem was so moving, so precious. It reminded me though of how neglected poetry often is in our national consciousness. To see the art of poetry center stage that day was such a good thing- in so many ways.
I am happy to have discovered your amazing blog and will be following your writing happily.
I so agree… I am grateful for President Kennedy for starting this tradition, and for Clinton for continuing it… Poetry reminds us to feel our way through. And thanks for reading my blog!
I wasn’t able to watch the event live, but I did rather enjoy your rendition of the poet’s work and your commentary on poetry in general. Your words were nicely woven and a pleasure to read.
This is what Ernst, above, wrote to you in German…”It is not easy for me, despite translation to understand this whole event, and poetry. But your report on this event I really liked.
Best regards. Ernst”
Google “Translate” is a fantastic tool. 🙂