I planned to stay quiet on the inaugural poem and wait for the nasty discussion to simmer down, but I'm disturbed. What is wrong with people? First of all, the inauguration wasn't about poetry, prayers, Yo Yo Ma or Aretha's big ass bow, it was about setting the new tone for the incoming administration and our country. Second, commissioned art is never the height of artistic achievement. There are parameters that each artistic contribution needed to fall into -- parameters in cases like these override the art itself. Every participant in the ceremony played his/her role in furthering the incoming administration's message. Each participant was selected because Obama knew their work and envisioned them demonstrating a part to symbolize this message. Each played a supporting role in this ceremony to celebrate this change of power. Ceremonies symbolize.
So who cares if he didn't pick your poet. Or that the poet he did pick didn't write a poem in your preferred style. Or that poem or the presentation wasn't "dazzling" enough or didn't rhyme or was too plain or included a cliche or whatever your personal beef. I understand the dismay against the selection of Rick Warren, he's (very recently) hurt people, played an active role in the removal of people's rights. That selection was both a contradiction (everyone being equal) and example (including everyone, even those you disagree with) of the administration's message. At the very least, I can understand how some would be personally wounded and feel betrayed by that selection. My initial reaction upon hearing of Warren's selection was "well, that's a dick move." I later softened and figured hey, let the open hypocrite participate too, he'll be exposed and maybe humbled and maybe this is small step towards unifying and entering tolerance into the collective consciousness. I'm not trying to convince anyone one way or the other on that -- if you're hurt and offended, I empathize and am not suggesting you feel any other way.
But where is this personal venom coming from against our inaugural poet and poem? Are people in the music industry bitching that Obama should have picked Patti Labelle or Faith Hill or that guy from Coldplay? Are they up in arms at the selection of Yo Yo Ma? I kinda doubt it. This grotesque pettiness goes back to poets fighting over that tiny crumb of a pie. Poets, forget the fucking pie already! I promise you, it's stale and flavorless. If you ever get a bite, you'll still be as empty as your are now.
As for all this nonsense about this being Poetry's big chance -- um, no it wasn't, it wasn't supposed to be and get over your self-centered, personal profiteering selves. Elizabeth Alexander did not go up there to be a representative of poets. She accepted an invitation, a daunting and frightening honor that I cannot conceive of having the bravery to accept. Putting oneself and one's poem out there, knowing full well the scrutiny both you and your poem will endure, most would shirk. When Alexander took the podium, momentarily paused before she read, when she looked out at that massive (departing) crowd, I wanted nothing more that to jump into my television and give her a hug.
I heard several different poets bemoan "Oh gee, now everyone is going to think that contemporary poetry is boring." Well I hate to break it to you, everybody already thinks that and no poem or poet, no million dollar poetry foundation or advertisement in Good Housekeeping is ever going to change general opinion. People come to poetry, not the other way around. If you want to reach more people, study filmmaking or write TV sitcom scripts. When Diane Feinstein announced that next up was a poem, 1.5 million of the 2 million audience started high stepping it out of there, before Alexander spoke a single word. If the classical music came after the swearing in, most of those same people would have left then too. More probably would have stuck around to hear Aretha, cause she's a celebrity and she sings songs you can dance to.
I understand why poets are interested in discussing the poem aspect of the inauguration. I am too. What I don't understand where the animosity is stemming. Seems like the whole point of the ceremony was completely lost on some. How quickly and readily some are willing to piss all over the place, even a brand new, long-awaited place.