In honor of President Barack Obama’s last day in office today, and with appreciation for his bringing poetry and a love of literature into the White House, we present poetry highlights from his eight years as president:
- Poets Julia Alvarez, Rita Dove, and Donald Hall received the National Medal of Arts. At the ceremony, Obama spoke eloquently about the importance of poetry in our lives, saying, “A great nation should make great poetry. Like so many artists and musicians and writers and poets before him—and so many that came after him—Robert Frost wasn’t afraid to say his piece or speak truth to power. He wasn’t afraid to tell what was on his mind. He wasn’t held back by convention or what was considered normal or acceptable. And that is an incredible power, an incredible resource. And we’re seeing that power all across the world today. That’s what challenges us. That’s what pushes us to be better, to be more faithful to the sense of humanity that so often can be lost in the experiences of our daily lives.”
- In 2011, A Celebration of American Poetry took place at the White House, featuring poets Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, and Rita Dove, among others. In his remarks, Obama said, “As a nation built on freedom of expression, poets have always played an important role in telling our American story.”
- The National Student Poets Program was launched in 2012, with support from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and its honorary chairwoman, first lady Michelle Obama.
- Richard Blanco, who now serves as our Education Ambassador, wrote and read the poem "One Today" at Obama's second presidential inauguration in 2013.
- In April 2015, the White House celebrated National Poetry Month with an event featuring Elizabeth Alexander, during which Obama said, “Poetry matters. Poetry—like all art—gives us shape and texture and depth of meaning to our lives. It helps us know the world. It helps us understand ourselves. It helps us understand others—their struggles, their joys, the ways that they see the world. It helps us connect.”
- Obama often cited poets and poetry on important occasions, such as the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, when he said, “We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who ‘build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.’ We are the people Emerson wrote of, ‘who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long’; who are ‘never tired, so long as we can see far enough.’”