Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Praise Song for the Not-Lame

A while back, I suggested that Martin Espada would have made a much better inaugural poet than Elizabeth Alexander. Re-reading his occasional elegy/praise song "Alabanza" today, I was reminded of just how much can be done in this mode by a poet not hamstrung by a) a lack of native ability and b) a desire to cater to the common denominators of a crowd and the goodwill of the powers that be. To those who defend Alexander's poem as a piece of democratic plain speech, as opposed to high-falutin ivory tower poetic esoterica, I would say that "Alabanza" is plain speech par excellence, in that fine American tradition inaugurated by Whitman: plain speech with rhetorical verve, with rhythmic propulsion, with emotional valence. Espada's poem is written to people, whereas Alexander's was written about a subject. "Alabanza" soars, whereas "Praise Song for the Day" shuffles, stutters and sinks. Apparently, she's said she'll never read it again. Smart move.

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