"Praise Song for the Day"

Explore the essence of poetry in 'Praise Song for the Day' by Elizabeth Alexander. Discover the human voice in verse. Read more.

"Praise Song for the Day"
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Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet famous for writing Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration poem, "Praise Song for the Day." In the following passage, she teaches that poetry is idiosyncratic (peculiar or individual).
Poetry, I tell my students, is idiosyncratic. Poetry is where we are ourselves (though Sterling Brown said “Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'”), digging in the clam flats for the shell that snaps, emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there. Poetry (and now my voice is rising) is not all love, love, love, and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?
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By using idiosyncratic imagery, Alexander practices what she preaches. She likens the poetic process to "digging in the clam flats for the shell that snaps."
Clam flats are stretches of shallow, coast where you can dig for clams exposed by a low tide. Clam shells snap shut when disturbed. Finding a "snapping shell" implies the discovery of something alive, vital, and perhaps even evasive.

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Elizabeth Alexander Collection