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A Distinctly American Poem

An inaugural poem that celebrates the romance and beauty of everyday life.

11:00 PM, Jan 20, 2009 • By ELI LEHRER
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Above all, Alexander takes a romantic -- in the original sense, meaning "strongly emotional" -- view of history and the inauguration. For an American writing occasional poetry this seems like a good fit. Poetry, after all, represents an effort to condense emotion, to use language for its evocative aesthetic qualities as well as its actual meaning. A society that forbids the granting of noble titles and limits the terms of most chief executives believes in (but sometimes fails to practice) the principle that all its citizens should enjoy social equality and doesn't always produce the stuff of good poetry on its public occasions. Besides all the pomp, circumstance, and genuine celebration, a presidential inauguration also signifies the ascent to great power of an individual many Americans did not support. And trying to crystallize that in a poem seems nearly impossible without detracting from the genuine mood of celebration. In other words, Alexander busted the crux that has long made it difficult for Americans to produce worthwhile occasional poetry.

Replacing logic, reason, and genuine history with emotion might prove a dangerous game when it comes to governance. In the context of poetry, however, doing so often leads to moments of beauty. If nothing else, Alexander wrote a distinctly American poem.

Eli Lehrer is a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.