Those Stories We Need to Hear Over and Over Again

Coates has the inaguration poem up as his Friday poem.  Reading it, I think I like it better than I did hearing it, though, as you remember, I thought it was a perfectly fine poem.  The thing that strikes me is that still, still, a public American poem sounds so Whitman-esque.  You’ve got the run-down of all the ordinary folks doing ordinary things, a favorite motif of Uncle Walt:

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.


Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
hand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Or frankly, just about any Whitman poem.  Dude loved his ordinary people doing ordinary things.

And there’s the “singing” which Whitman loves and the idea that our strength is in our people.

It might be interesting to consider the switch from “I” to “we” as the movement of the American poet from outside of society to in its midst and what that means as the public role for poets is so diminished from the time when Whitman wrote.  But I am still wondering what it is about Whitman’s approach that still resonates.  Could it really be that we still only imagine one type of poem as an “American” poem?

2 thoughts on “Those Stories We Need to Hear Over and Over Again

  1. The poet Elizabeth Alexander was on The Colbert Report on Wednesday night and was a pretty good sport. I’m with you on enjoying it more today than on Tuesday.

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