Elizabeth Alexander had a hard act to follow
Poetry tends to be a very polite enterprise, especially among the people who write it. It’s refreshing then to read an excoriating critique of Elizabeth Alexander, the poet tapped to deliver a new poem for Barack Obama’s historic inauguration.
The critic, Jack Foley, writing an open letter in the Contemporary Poetry Review, thinks it was a squandered opportunity. He puts the blame squarely on Alexander, saying that if you’re going to be the center of the universe, and be the spokesperson for poetry, why not write a great poem, not a forgettable one?
Here was an opportunity to show millions of people — millions of people — what an exciting thing poetry is. Look at what you gave them. Look at what you gave all those people who think poetry is dull, genteel, a form of little interest — a dead thing.
But I’m not convinced it was wasted, because I’m not convinced her poem could have made much of an impact from the outset. Even if her poem had been unbelievable, it would still have mostly fallen on deaf ears. I’m not judging Alexander or her poem or our culture’s receptivity to poetry; I’m observing a fundamental law of show business: Be careful what act you follow.
By the time Alexander took the podium, I’d stopped listening. Her poem came right after the new president’s speech. By then, I was emotionally spent. And I have no doubt many, many thousands of others were, too. If Alexander was going to push poetry forward into American consciousness, she’d probably need to knock our socks off before Obama, not after. As it is, she left poetry pretty much where she found it.
Fortunately, we have a president who knows how to turn a phrase. Maybe after four years of speeches — and he’s going to give a lot of them to save the economy — more people will disagree that poetry is “dull, genteel, a form of little interest.”
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog