Sunday, January 18, 2009

I love Julia Alvarez

I've liked her poetry for a long while, but I especially love what she's done with the AP's request for an inaugural poem. I've written before about my problems with Frost's poem for Kennedy, and it shouldn't be a surprise that I wasn't alone. Alvarez voiced many of the same reservations, though in a far better--and poetic--way than I did. Here's her poem:
The land was never ours, nor we the land's:
no, not in Selma, with the hose turned on,
nor in the valley picking the alien vines.
Nor was it ours in Watts, Montgomery--
no matter what the frosty poet said.
We heard the crack of whips, the mothers' moans
in anthems like an undertow of grief.
The land was never ours but we believed
a King's dream might some day become a deed
to what we did not own, though it owed us.
(Who had the luxury to withhold himself?)
No gift outright for us, we earned this land
with sorrow's currency: our hands, our backs,
our Rosas, Martins, Jesses, our Baracks.
Today we give our land what we withheld:
the right at last to call itself one nation.
I'm teaching occasional poetry in my Poetic Forms class in a couple of weeks, and I planned to bring in the inaugural poems anyway. I'm adding this one to the list.

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At January 24, 2009 at 8:54 AM , Blogger Claudia said...

I'm so glad I stumbled upon your comment and now I know about your blog and this terrific poem. For me, "The Gift Outright" was odd and unsettling and Alvarez singles out the reason why. The last line is especially powerful:

Today we give our land what we withheld:
the right at last to call itself one nation.



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