Barack Obama: the forty-fourth president of the United States of America.
Elizabeth Alexander: the fourth poet to read at a U.S. president’s inauguration.
Graywolf Press will be releasing Alexander’s poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” as a chapbook on February 6. Which is good, because, in this humble scribe’s opinion, the poem works better on the page than on the stage–at least as Alexander read it. In the rich tradition of poets who write better than they read, Alexander’s halting. delivery. did. more. to. remind. us. that. we. were. listening. to. a. poem. than. to. instill. her. words. with. meaning.
That said, a speech like Obama’s is a tough act to follow.
Read Janet St. John’s review of Alexander’s American Sublime (2005).
Update: The Guardian reports that, with two weeks to go before publication, the $8 paperback is already Amazon’s bestselling poetry book (“Poem for Obama tops bestseller list,” by Alison Flood). The competition isn’t quite as fierce as in thrillers, but still, a noteworthy accomplishment.