Elizabeth Alexander, 46, was chosen by President-elect Obama to serve as his inauguration poet. The Yale professor is only the fourth poet to hold the honor. "I'm taking all the good wishes I've received forward with me as I do this,'' she said in a phone interview from New York on Jan. 9. Alexander was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her collection American Sublime.
As you've been preparing, what poets have been on your mind?
So many of the great poets from the ages — Yeats, Auden, Robert Hayden. Walt Whitman has been on my mind a great deal with his expressions of the power of diversity found with Americans and how such diversity makes this an incredibly rich nation. There's also Gwendolyn Brooks, whose work serves the present occasion well. She's from the very community that Obama came out of.
Can you mention a favorite poem of Brooks'?
Her Sermons on the Warpland. It's where she wrote, "Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind." Language like that has eternal life. We're always in the midst of challenges, and we as a nation are facing great challenges right now.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer