There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the A-list stars performing at President Barack Obama‘s second presidential inauguration, but aside from all of the Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson fanfare, we thought it’d be worthy to turn the spotlight on a quieter yet equally important star: the inaugural poet.
Although there have been only a handful of inaugural poets in our history, they’ve been significant in that they’ve represented their respective presidents’ view of the kind of world they hope to live in.
An image of President Kennedy presenting a medal to Robert Frost in March 1962. Frost, in turn, gives Kennedy a book of poems. To the right, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson looks on. (Getty)
For President John F. Kennedy, he felt the importance of bringing a sense of culture to the White House and thus, asked Robert Frost to recite one of his favorite poems, “The Gift Outright,” at his 1961 inauguration.
Here’s an excerpt:
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely; realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
Thirty-two years later, President Bill Clinton tapped Maya Angelou to compose a poem for his swearing-in ceremony in 1993.
“I do believe that President-elect Clinton chose me because in all my work I stress that human beings are more alike than we are unalike,” Angelou told the media at the time.
And thus, she went on to produce the now famous “On the Pulse of Morning.”
Here’s an excerpt:
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
With hope –
For President Obama’s inauguration this year, he, too, has established a new first by choosing Richard Blanco, the first Latino LGBT poet.
Although we have yet to hear Blanco’s new composition, the Inaugural Committee describes the 44-year-old poet’s work as “the collective American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother’s life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father, and the passing of a generation of relatives. His work also explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man.”
Whether Blanco’s poetic offering resonates with Americans may not yet be known, but what is already clear is that he’s a fitting symbol of the Obama zeitgeist of social and cultural progression.