As the inaugural program has been announced, much conversation has arisen about the selection of various personalities who will be there. As a social studies teacher, a writer and someone who appreciates words I am most excited to read that Elizabeth Alexander has been selected as the inaugural poet.
Many times over the course of the primary and the election, I have used Wordle and clouds to focus on the word choice that our presidential candidates used. Alexander has captured the beauty of those words and the words of the president-elect in the website announcement of her selection:
"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.
President-elect Obama has shown us at all turns his respect for the power of language. The care with which he has always used language along with his evident understanding that language and words bear power and tell us who we are across differences, have been hallmarks of his political career. My joy at being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s Presidential inaugural emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward...
This is a powerful moment in our history. The joy I feel is sober and profound because so much struggle and sacrifice have brought us to this day. And there is so much work to be done ahead of us. Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation. Language distilled and artfully arranged shifts our experience of the words – and the worldviews – we live in..."
Alexander's poems are thought provoking and powerful. They create images and make the reader think. Among my favorites are the ones written about the Amistad uprising - the various perspectives and her voice in the Southern Atlantic Quarterly article in which she describes the process through which she came to write the poems. Other poems are here - digest them slowly and one at a time, they are best taken in that way to capture the full flavor of her language.
And once you have done that - share them with your students. Encourage them to find the words that describe how they felt on election day - whether they supported the president-elect or not. Help them see how concise and vivid language can pack a punch. And most importantly - after the speeches and swearing in - listen to the poem that Elizabeth Alexander is writing. I am pretty sure it will be amazing.