The Five Disciplines of Presidential Poets
By Kym Gordon Moore
What does John F. Kennedy, William J. Clinton and Barack H. Obama have in common? It is not just the fact that they were elected into the position of President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, but they share a common denominator commemorating the day of their Inaugural ceremonies. Amid the entourage of family, friends, former Presidents and political leaders, selected poets are asked to prepare a poem and address the masses especially designed for the occasion that would touch the pulse of everyone attending or watching the Inauguration on TV or through the Internet.
The first poet invited to speak at a Presidential Inauguration was Robert Frost, who recited his poem at President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Oath of Office ceremony. When President William “Bill” Clinton was sworn in during his first term in 1993, poet Maya Angelou read her celebrated poem and during President Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997, Miller Williams recited his poem. President Barack Obama requested poet Elizabeth Alexander to read at his first Inauguration in 2009 and for President Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony in 2013, Richard Blanco became the fifth poet to read at a Presidential Inaugural ceremony.
Although poets chosen to speak at an Inauguration are well-regarded in their profession and gain greater notoriety for their participation during such a prestigious national celebration, they define a stringent routine that is revered in literary proportions. While not every aspiring poet will become an esteemed participant in a Presidential Inauguration, they can certainly learn from the discipline these Inauguration poets evoke in the ceremonial grandeur and ornate formality that perfects their craft.
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