Our First Inaugural PoetJANUARY 10, 2009
- Poet Linda Pastan
- (Margaretta K. Mitchell)
- View the Slideshow
- Poetry Foundation
- (Poetry Foundation)
- View the Slideshow
- Conversations with America: Concluding the Conversation
- New Langston Hughes Poems Discovered
- Tuskegee Airmen
- Poet and President-elect Obama
More From Larissa Anderson
A lot of people are going to watch Barack Obama being sworn in as the country's next president. They'll squeeze into D.C. by the millions for the ceremony, and more will be watching on TV, including poet Linda Pastan. She'll see the whole thing sitting on her couch, just like she did almost 50 years ago when she curled up to watch John F. Kennedy's Inauguration.
Linda Pastan: I was a young mother with children of two and four, and so there was no way that I could get downtown for Kennedy's Inauguration, but I was pinned to the television that whole day. The children running around in the background were unable to even distract me. We were so excited to have this young, vibrant new president.
For me, the most vivid part of the Inauguration was not the swearing in, it was watching Robert Frost. Watching that very old man with the wind just blowing the paper out of his hands and him stumbling up there, it was excruciating. When I watched Frost stumbling over his words in that crowd in front of the whole world, he couldn't get his glasses on properly - this may be wrong, it's how I remember it however - and to see someone who you've admired and respected and revered for your whole life, it's a very terrifying and sad thing.
Finally I think the paper just either blew out of his hands or in the wind with his hair in his face he couldn't read, and what he did was to recite one of his best poems.
"The Gift Outright" is a poem that I had studied and known for many years and it was so appropriate to an inauguration because it was a poem about a kind of patriotism. We belong to the country, we have to, even in the moments when we despair about the way it's behaving, it's still - we belong to it.
I wrote my poem, "Remembering Frost on Kennedy's Inauguration" because somebody asked me to write a poem about Frost and what came to me immediately was that memory of him at the inauguration.
"Remembering Frost at Kennedy's Inauguration"
Even the flags seemed frozen
to their poles, and the men
stamping their well-shod feet
resembled an army of overcoats.
But we were young and fueled
by hope, our ardor burned away
the cold. We were the president's,
and briefly, the president would be ours.
The old poet stumbled
over his own indelible words,
his breath a wreath around his face:
a kind of prophesy
Copyright 2006 by Linda Pastan. Reprinted from "Queen of a Rainy Country" with permission from W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY.
Even though I wasn't out in the cold, the cold almost came out of the television set. Everyone's breath was a cloud around their face, not just Frost's, and when you're speaking and your breath comes out, it is kind of like a wreath around your face, and I immediately thought of a funeral wreath. Frost would not live very much longer after that year. When I say that "briefly the president would be ours," it's because it was such a short time that we had him; we didn't know then that it was going to be so brief.More stories from our Poetry Radio Project series