Write the poem that you would like to read at a Presidential Inauguration.
We have studied the five inaugural poems, as well as Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” as a complementary “protest” poem. Your poem will be a poem with a specific purpose: to make your voice heard at this specific moment in history, to chronicle your experiences and your impressions of America.
From our analysis of the previous poems, we identified three traits in common in all the poems:
- Acknowledgment of the past, consideration of the future, and recognition of the present moment.
- An exploration of American values and ideals.
- A tone of celebration and hope, even as the poems addressed the scars of American history.
Your poem does not need to include all of these common traits; your poem does need to express your voice and your vision. Say what you want to say to America. That means that your tone can certainly be celebratory and hopeful, but it might also be cynical or despairing or some powerful combination of tones. I have only named a few possible tones. As Walt Whitman said, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” This is true of all of us, as well as America.
Literary/Rhetorical Devices We Noticed in the Inaugural Poems
When your groups discussed and presented on the inaugural poems, you identified the following strategies and rhetorical devices that the poets employed that you might consider using in your own poem. These strategies include:
- Repetition of key words or phrases
- Listing as a way of encompassing America: landmarks, peoples, religions
- Listing specific examples of the work of everyday Americans
- Paradox at the core of the meaning of the poem
- Personification (of America, the land, etc.)
- Symbolism (Rock, River, Tree)
- The importance of natural images
- Specific word choice and specific imagery
- The use of double meanings
- Rhetorical questions
- Personal experience or memory (“hands as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane”)
This is a longer form poem. If we look at the poems written for the event itself (not the Frost poem), these poems are from 35-100 lines long.
To Submit to Poets.org:
To submit your inaugural poem to the Inaugural Poem Project and Contest for Students, follow the guidelines here. (This contest is now closed for 2021.)
Note for teachers:
You may want to invite students to share and celebrate some or all of these poems in class and select an inaugural poem “winner” for each class. Perhaps one poem might be selected to be read by the student poet during announcements on Inauguration Day. A full Inaugural Poem project lesson plan sequence is here.