In the United States and beyond, elections provide regular opportunities for communities and countries to reflect on our histories. From voting to inauguration, each moment we have to voice our hopes for the community acts as powerful way to think about how our individual values impact the future of our governments, cultures, and civilizations.
While art and literature have always played an integral part in shaping the history of our civilization, the inclusion of poetry at the Presidential inauguration is relatively recent. Only four presidents—John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013, and Joe Biden in 2021—have had poets read at their inaugurations. These presidents were known for their appreciation of reading and literature.
Read the presidential inaugural poems, and learn more about these poems and poets:
Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden:
2021: Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb.”
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated...
Watch Amanda Gorman read Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” as part of Shelter in Poems.
Presidential Inaugurations of Barack Obama:
2013: Richard Blanco, “One Today.”
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies...
Read an interview with Richard Blanco about writing the inaugural poem.
2009: Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day.”
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking...
Read Elizabeth Alexander’s introduction to The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (Library of America, 2005).
Presidential Inaugurations of Bill Clinton:
1997: Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope.”
We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where...
Read more about Miller Williams.
1993: Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning.”
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon...
Listen to a tribute to Maya Angelou by Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo.
Presidential Inauguration of John F. Kennedy:
1961: Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright.”
The land was ours before we were the land’s
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours...
Explore “Dedication,” the original poem Frost wrote for the inauguration.
Browse this lesson plan sequence on inaugural poems and assign your students to write their own. Read student poems from the 2021 Inaugural Poem Contest.
The Academy of American Poets, the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry, is...
Academy of American Poets staff spoke with Richard Blanco...
Inspired by the success of our popular syndicated series Poem-a-Day, we’re pleased to present...