Elizabeth Alexander reads "Praise Song for the Day"

This was only one poem from a reading that was dense, articulate and moving. At her first Bay area reading, Elizabeth Alexander came through with various selections from her previous books, a new poem, and the inaugural poem. Her commentary on the poem and the fact that she continues reading it is a great example to all poets: “It is one poem among many. Somewhere in the middle.”

So much of the negative commentary around the Inaugural Poem was about how Alexander didn’t deliver a reading that blew away everyone, a poem that should have stood out among all her work, a performance that would steal the show. This might work for poets who think every reading is their last one, that no one will ever hear their work again, that *this* has to be the poem that will last forever. I’ve met poets like this, most of them only do a few poems they have carefully crafted, endlessly revised, and have performed so often they could do it in their sleep. I know, I was a poet like this. Always relying on a few poems to wow the listener. Hell, for a good long time, I only had one poem to show the audience that Damn it, I am a real poet.

I wish I had heard the advice of Elizabeth Alexander earlier and realized that one poem can make me a poet but only for that moment. If I wanted to be a poet for the ages or even an occasion poet, I would have to keep writing and reciting more poems, work one and then move to the other. It’s a strong lesson to learn and even tougher to follow because the rush of nailing a performance poem–articulating every line break, feeling the turn of the poem move through your body, making eye contact with every one in the room, seeing and feeling their reaction to the poem–it rocks. But to go on to the next moment, where an even better poem might be waiting, that’s the real good news. The kind of good news that could get you to a stage where the whole world is listening, so you can deliver the best poem you have for that day, and then move on.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article!

    While I was critical of her on that day, I am a fan and was before that day. I wish I could have seen her set. She truly is a gifted poet.

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