If you caught any of the coverage of the presidential inauguration ceremony on Monday, you might have noticed poet Richard Blanco joining the lineup of super VIPs like Barack Obama and Beyoncé. Blanco stood before the crowd of one million to read his poem “One Today,” which he composed just for the occasion.
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Although several presidents have commissioned inaugural poems in the past, Richard Blanco is only the sixth inaugural poet in U.S. history. The first president to include poetry in his inaugural event was John F. Kennedy, who asked Robert Frost to read his poem “The Gift Outright” during the 1961 ceremony. In 1977, the poet James Dickey shared “The Strength of Fields” during the inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton invited poets to participate in both of his inaugural ceremonies—Maya Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” in 1993 and Miller Williams read “Of History and Hope” in 1997. For President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, he invited his friend Elizabeth Alexander to write and read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” during the ceremony.
Occasional poems like these are meant to commemorate a significant event or occasion by invoking the emotions and impressions of that moment in time. Many inaugural poets have used the opportunity to reflect on the last four years and look ahead to the future. Intrigued by this literary challenge, Yahoo! News recently asked six poets (including movie star James Franco) to compose a new poem for the occasion of Obama’s second inauguration. The resulting poems represent an array of unique viewpoints and reflections on the President and the nation’s past and future. You can check them out here.
If perusing this presidential poetry has moved you to try your hand at some occasional poetry of your own, inspiration is all around. Write a poem to commemorate a birthday, a break-up, or the inauguration of the weekend. Need more ideas or poetic guidance? The library is packed with poetry-writing resources!