In 1962 the great literary critic and chronicler Edmund Wilson, Fitzgerald’s mentor and noble father of the Library of America (the American Pliade), caused some grumbling in the literary world by pointing to President Abraham Lincoln among the writers in his very careful analysis of Civil War literature fundamentals of the American nineteenth century.
Today we remember Lincoln – a self-taught country lawyerThis is why American academics and critics of yore looked at him with a certain suspicion – for his speeches. Among the many masterpieces, there is the one you deliver during the ceremony of his second inauguration as president and which was defined by the rector of Oxford, Earl Curzon, the purest gold of human eloquence. Indeed: almost divine eloquence.
It was – wrote Carl Schurz, an intellectual and one of the founders of the Republican Party – like a sacred poem. No ruler had ever spoken words like these to his people.
Edmund Wilson, in the book Patriotic Gore, Patriotic blood, tells Lincoln as a literary character, like, literally, a poet: Lincoln’s dreams and premonitions are also part of this drama, to which contributes an element of imaginary and tragic foreshadowing that is sometimes found in the lives of poets – the visions of Dante or Byron’s latest poem – but which one is not expected to encounter in the career of a politician.
Lincoln was also a poet: he was not published in life, at least with his signature (historians and philologists scramble over the authorship of an anonymous poem published in 1838 by an Illinois newspaper). At the moment the only president-poet published alive remains Jimmy Carter (his Always a Reckoning remains an ill-advised editorial initiative).
It was John F. Kennedy, a voracious reader of non-fiction, much less than fiction and poetry, personally almost indifferent to music, elected in 1960 as herald of the New Frontier and representative of what he himself called a new generation of Americans forged by war, to decide for the first time in American history to invite a poet reciting occasional verses.
Kennedy asked Robert Frost – Democrat, but who had refused to sign a manifesto of pro Jfk intellectuals during the election campaign – to write a poem to read on the day of the oath, January 20, 1961. Frost, eighty-seven, wrote Dedication but he couldn’t read it. That day the blinding sunlight, the cold air, prevented Frost from seeing what was written on the lectern; Lyndon Johnson, a Texan pragmatist, tried to shield his Stetson hat in the eyes of the elderly poet, to no avail. Cos Frost (1874-1963) recited another of his poems by heart, The Gift Outright, moreover – the philologists warn us – changing a few words. Too bad, because Dedication it ends with the lines that heralded a golden age of poetry and power, which begins at noon (the handover between American presidents takes place at 12 o’clock).
The tradition ofinaugural poet, poet of the presidential inauguration, launched by Kennedy, stops in the bud for over thirty years. Nothing from Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George Bush Sr.
We have to wait for the arrival of the then young rampant Bill Clinton to hear a poem from the presidential podium on the day of the inauguration. In 1993, here is Maya Angelou: great charisma, very elegant, writer and poetess of great evocative power (1928-2014), extraordinary also the voice, the intonation. Unfortunately, instead of reading one of the beautiful, exciting, poems that made her famous, she falls into the same trap as Frost and most of the poets who arrived after her on that podium: the second-hand verses written by Angelou for the settlement of Bill Clinton, On the Pulse of Morning, even after thirty years they seem to be among the weakest published by her through an extraordinary career.
The reviews, in the following days, are cautious, respectful – you get the impression that no one wants to put an end to that verbose poem in which there is nothing of Angelou’s evocative power – and so we prefer to insist on how significant the choice of the African-American poet half a century after Frost was, and how much her hymn to America multicultural and multiracial and variously religious was important (which is very true).
Bill Clinton, for his second inauguration, 1997, chooses a lower profile: here is Miller Williams (1930-2015), translator, poet, professor in his native Clintonian Arkansas: law Of History and Hope, composed for the occasion, which speaks of America as seen from the eyes of children.
Obama – university professor of law in life before politics – not a poet but a very refined reader. He surprises by appointing Elizabeth Alexander, a professor at Yale and the sister of one of his advisors, for the inauguration in 2009: Praise Song for the Day. Noble call to brotherhood, love your neighbor as yourself, an invitation to walk forward in the light.
Four years after the choice of re-elected Obama falls on a poet who manages to excite beyond the mandatory he wished well of the occasion. Richard Blanco – Latino, gay – with his One Today that speaks of the millions of faces in the morning mirrors that make up the American mosaic risks the standing ovation, he is the rock star of inaugural poet until last January. When Amanda Gorman arrives with her The Hill We Climb, and overshadows everyone else before her. a star is born, thanks to the first lady Jill Biden, university professor with poetic antennae who signals her to her husband Joe (who is not an intellectual but a poetic gourmet who reads and quotes Seamus Heaney): Democracy can be postponed / but never defeated everything / in this truth / in this faith we believe.
The book on newsstands with Corriere from 31 March
The book of the poet Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb. Words of courage, hope and the future, will be on newsstands with Corriere della Sera at a price of € 9.90 (plus the cost of the newspaper) starting from Wednesday 31 March. And from the same day he will also be in the bookshop with the publisher Garzanti. The text that reports the poem read by Amanda Gorman on the inauguration of American President Joe Biden (January 20, 2021) has been translated by Francesca Spinelli and enriched by a short but intense preface by Oprah Winfrey. Amanda Gorman, a Catholic, born in Los Angeles on March 7, 1998 and graduated cum laude in 2020 from Harvard in Sociology. engaged as an activist in the fight for the defense of the environment, for racial equality and gender justice. His activism and his poetic production have found space in television programs such as The Today Show, Pbs Kids, Cbs This Morning, and in newspapers and magazines, from the New York Times to Vogue, Essence and O, The Oprah Magazine. In 2017, she was the first poet to be awarded the title of National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban World, a program that supports young poets in more than 60 American cities, regions and states. Now Gorman has returned to live in Los Angeles, his hometown. He has published the volume of verses The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough published by Urban Word in 2015. His website: theamandagorman.com.
March 27, 2021 (change March 27, 2021 | 20:35)