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Poets from Presidential Inaugurations: A Selection: Home

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. In her writing process she would wake early in the morning and check into a hotel room where the staff was instructed to remove any pictures from the walls. She would write on legal pads while lying in bed, with only a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire, Roget's Thesaurus, and the Bible. Angelou studied and began writing poetry at a young age, and used poetry and other great literature to cope with life. 

Excerpt from On the Pulse of Morning

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to human kind today Come to me, Here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

 

Elizabeth Alexander (1962- )

Elizabeth Alexander is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. Barack Obama invited Alexander to give the inaugural poem in January 2009. 

Excerpt from Praise Song for the Day

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky. 

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. 

Amanda Gorman (1998- )

Amanda Gorman was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. She studied Sociology at Harvard. Jill Biden recommended her for the inauguration of her husband Joseph Biden in January 2021. 

Excerpt from The Hill We Climb

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

  Somehow, we do it.

Somehow, we've weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn't broken, but simply

unfinished.