Elizabeth Alexander’s praise poem was way too prosy

From The Guardian:

Alexander_large The African praise song traditionally celebrates the life of an individual, giving their name, genealogy, totem animal, job, personal attributes, etc in a rhythmical, incantatory, call-and-response style. To use this ancient form was an idea with exciting potential, but, as it turned out, the title of Elizabeth Alexander's inauguration poem was more inspired than the poem itself. Readers looking at the transcript might be asking if it's a poem at all. With its long prosy lines, this praise song is closer to a speech than a song.

“Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking,” Alexander begins: not a riveting start. “All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din…” The “thorn” image is picked up later: “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider”. In a poem concerned with language and human encounter, brambles may not be the sharpest metaphorical image for the curse of Babel.

Alexander's broad focus is offset by efforts to pick out small salient details. “Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum …” is effective, though it would have been more effective without the jarring echo of “pair” with “things in need of repair” in the previous sentence. Recalling her original inspiration, one of the strophes proclaims, “Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; the figuring it out at kitchen tables.” The reference to the hand-lettered signs (there were, of course, many in the crowd) is a nice touch.

More here.