What to Do When There’s No Inaugural Poem?

There will be no poem at today’s inauguration. The tradition began at Kennedy’s inauguration with a poem by Robert Frost.

I know it’s not an unbroken tradition. Not every president since Kennedy has had an inaugural poet. But this one feels conspicuous.

I’m not surprised that there isn’t an inaugural poet. Who would agree to it? What would they write?

Would it be a lament?

Would the mic cut out?

We won’t know, because there’s no inaugural poet this year.

But we do have a poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. And he began a project where all of our voices are woven together. It was called La Familia, and here’s what he has to say about it:

La Familia (The Family) is an opportunity for you to contribute to an epic poem of all our voices and styles and experiences that will run the span of my Laureateship. By contributing to La Familia, you will be part of my family—and all our words will be seen and our voices be heard, throughout the nation and beyond.

Let’s take a look at a part of it. This is from section 6, “My Democracy”:

I live here.
That’s my democracy.
I live here and you live here and we all live here.
Together. All here together.
And we should listen, hear and act.
Together
As one.

And this

Democracy is a sacred vow
of open minds and caring hearts
to mutual respect, not ridicule,
social equality of all people.

And this

Democracy means we all have a voice,
and we all have to make a choice,
but we have a responsibility
to choose what is right and good
for everyone.

These were all written in spring of last year. Maybe they seem more optimistic than we feel today, but I think it’s times like these when we need to look at our past selves with their hopes and values as we look for ways to preserve la familia.

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