Elizabeth Alexander read the inaugural poem for President Barack Obama in January 2009. Her work has been inspired by a wide range of influence, from history, literature, art and music to the ‘rich infinity’ of the African-American experience. Hers is a vital and vivid poetic voice on race, gender, politics and motherhood. American Blue is her first British publication.
Many of her poems bring history alive and singing into the present in highly musical, sharply contemporary narratives which use many different forms and voices to cover subjects ranging from slave rebellions, the Civil Rights movement, Muhammed Ali and Toni Morrison to the lives of jazz musicians and the ‘Venus Hottentot’, a 19th-century African woman exhibited at carnivals.
‘These poems of personal history are so particular in the rendering and so precisely made that they often transcend the poet’s private domain and stand beautifully for the human condition in all its glory and tragedy. In other words, Alexander has an instinct for turning her profound cultural vision into one that illuminates universal experience.’ – Clarence Major
‘In narratives sweetened by the lyric pulse and pierced through by felicitous turns of irony, Alexander chronicles the world of “black and tan”. Her poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh. Race is present in her poems in the way that sex, class, age, even weather are present in all of our lives.’ – Rita Dove, Washington Post
‘Alexander is an unusual thing, a sensualist of history, a romanticist of race. She weaves biography, history, experience, pop culture and dream. Her poems make the public and private dance together.’ – Chicago Tribune
‘Alexander uses exquisite care and delicacy to explore turbulent times and feelings, Bravo!’ – Ntozake Shange
‘Alexander explores tensions inherent in gender and race and expresses the ambivalence of motherhood in jazz-inflected tones.’ – Elle
Elizabeth Alexander reads seven poems
Elizabeth Alexander reads seven poems from three of the collections covered by American Blue: 'Smile', 'Ars Poetica #92: Marcus Garvey on Elocution', 'Ars Poetica #100: I Believe', 'Translator', 'Race', 'House Party Sonnet '66', and 'Little Slave Narrative #1: Master'. ‘Translator’ is from a long sequence, Amistad, about a rebellion in 1839 aboard a Spanish schooner taking slaves from Africa to Cuba; the ship was seized by the US Navy and taken to New Haven, Connecticut, but after a series of trials and appeals, the captives were eventually freed and returned to Sierra Leone. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley. Thes poems first appeared in collections published in the US by Graywolf Press.
Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem for Barack Obama
Elizabeth Alexander reads Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration to an audience of over a million in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, on 20 January 2009. Over a billion people watched the inauguration worldwide.
North America: Graywolf Press