Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days

On the day of President Obama's inauguration, Elizabeth Alexander read her poem, "Praise Song for the Day". Alexander's poem is the poem posted on Day 1, and it can be seen as a celebration of the moment, with mention made of the historical nature of his presidency based on his race as well as mention made of the simple joy of the day. Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg, the forces behind today's book, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days, put out a call before the inauguration for 99 more poets, creating a blog with a new poem posted every day. The catch? Apart from Alexander's poem, most or all of the poems were written only a day or so before they were posted on the blog that housed them. (Sadly, the blog has since been pretty much wiped clean, although there are now a few poems - and their performances - posted there.

Within the remaining 99 poems, there are occasionally other poems celebrating the new President and his life. I am fond, for instance of the poem offered for Day 27, which was Valentine's Day. It's a poem by Diane Wald entitled "nonromantic obama valentine for america, february 14th, 2009", and it opens with a focus on Obama's smile:

let us just make a note of one thing before traveling too far on:
obama eats the camera.

in every single photograph where he is smiling
the presidential teeth
require a taming of light, a scrooching in of every aperture
so the picture is not too far bedazzled.

in honor of this i send all america this nonromantic obama valentine command:
thou shalt smile!

for our president
is smiling.

just a man.
openly smiling.

Read the rest of the poem here.

The collection isn't just poems in praise of Obama, however. There are poems of protest, such as Day 90's poem by Joshua Corey, "When I Heard the Learn'd Spokesman", a poems which takes its shape and form from Walt Whitman's "When I Heart the Learn'd Astronomer", but which packs more of a wallop than Whitman's poem, a portion of which is sampled here:

When I heard the learn'd spokesman
Explain the contingencies that demand executive privilege,
When I read the torture memos
And heard the arguments against acts of truth
And sins of commission,
When prosecution and justice were again put out of reach in the name of freedom,
When I, sitting, heard the spokesmen and surrogates, to much applause and to much silence,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, . . .
And there are poems that have nothing to do with Obama at all, such as Allison Joseph's wonderfully witty poem, "Conservative Love in the Age of Obama", in which she expresses her compassion for John McCain's daughter, Meghan:

Meghan McCain complains online: she can't
find a good boyfriend, guy who doesn't
want her to don her mother's pearls and smile,

wave like a future first lady. Girlfriend,
get in line, women of all political persuasions
can't find a man - despite those perpetual

E-Harmony ads on every hour selling
soulmate fantasies of lifetime companionship.
Read the rest here
An interesting mix of poems - both subjects and forms - related to the start of Obama's presidency.

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