Discussion: American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander

I was really debating during poetry for this summer's Readalong, but now I'm so glad I did. Reading all these poems has given me a few minutes of truth and beauty here and there (I read them in little chunks, not the whole book straight through). I specifically picked American poets, and specifically chose poets that are also readers of AskMoxie because I love how talented we are here.

The exception is this month's poet, Elizabeth Alexander. As far as I know she is not an AskMoxie reader, but she is famous. She was invited to read her poem "Praise Song For The Day" at the 2009 inauguration of U.S. President Obama. You can watch her reading it here:


So a big part of why I chose her book American Sublime is because her poetry seems so absolutely American to me. Urbane, nuanced, sophisticated, but broad-shouldered, open, resolute.

Alexander talks about subjeccts so big it is almost impossible to understand them, and so small that we may not even be aware of them until she draws our eyes to them with her words. And she is clever. So, so clever. The poem "Emancipation" is short, but in it she covers the daily horror of slavery while overlaying modern ideas of the Rapture, #staywoke, along with Biblical admonitions to keep watch through the night.

American Sublime is a book for reading in poem increments, while lying on the couch waiting for dinner to be ready, or standing at the bus stop with a drop of sweat rolling down the back of your leg, or while your child sleeps on top of you. It is big and small, and makes you big and small as you read it. If you're American it will make you more American to read it, and if you're not American it might make you hate us a little less for understanding us.

This is what I want to leave you with, to convince you to read some Elizabeth Alexander if you haven't yet, or to read more if you've read some. From "Ars Poetica #100: I Believe":

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


That, the fact that we are of interest to each other, is the whole reason I started writing, and why I keep writing AskMoxie. Poetry is life, and life is poetry, and life is how we go through it together.

Thank you, Elizabeth Alexander.


Final book in the Summer Readalong series: Far From Luck by Charlie O'Hay. Perfect for reading in the heat and haze of August. Discussion August 21.

One thought on “Discussion: American Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander”

  1. Can’t see the comments here, so don’t know if someone’s said this already, but in fact she was invited to *write* the inaugural poem for that day. Imagine!I haven’t read this collection, but I love what you posted here!

Comments are closed.