Editors' pick

Presidential Swearing-In


Editorial Review

Full Schedule for Inaugural Ceremony

Musical Selections
The United States Marine Band

Musical Selections
The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus

Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA

Musical Selection
Aretha Franklin

Oath of Office Administered to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
By Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
The Honorable John Paul Stevens

Musical Selection, John Williams, composer/arranger
Itzhak Perlman, Violin
Yo-Yo Ma, Cello
Gabriela Montero, Piano
Anthony McGill, Clarinet

Oath of Office Administered to President-elect Barack H. Obama
By the Chief Justice of the United States
The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

Inaugural Address
The President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama

Elizabeth Alexander

The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery

The National Anthem
The United States Navy Band ýSea Chantersý

Inaugural Committee Selects Poet for Ceremony

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

After a hiatus of more than a decade, poetry is returning to the inauguration of the American president.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced today that Elizabeth Alexander, a prize-winning poet at Yale University who grew up in Washington, will read at the swearing in next month of President-elect Barack Obama.

It is the first time that "poetry's old-fashioned praise," as Robert Frost called it, will be featured at the ceremony since 1997.

Alexander, 45, would be only the fourth poet to read at a swearing-in after Frost, who read at John F. Kennedy's in 1961, Maya Angelou, who read at Bill Clinton's in 1993, and Miller Williams, who read in Clinton's second inaugural in 1997, according to government officials.

"Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details," Alexander wrote in a poem entitled, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe. "Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?"

Alexander, a professor of African American studies, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005 and winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize last year.

She is the daughter of former secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, who made appearances on Obama's behalf during the campaign. She grew up on Capitol Hill and attended Sidwell Friends School, which Obama's children will attend. She is also a former neighbor of Obama's in Chicago.

She said she was overjoyed at the inaugural honor.

"I am obviously profoundly honored and thrilled," she said today. "Not only to have a chance to have some small part of this extraordinary moment in American history. . . . This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference, and that words have tremendous possibilities and those possibilities are not empty."

The poetry and literary community had been abuzz for weeks over whether a poet might read, and whom it would be, said Tree Swenson of the Academy of American Poets in New York City.

Prominent poets had mixed feelings about the idea of reading at an inauguration.

One former U.S. poet laureate, Ted Kooser, said the idea terrified him. "I am basically an introvert," he said. "For an occasion like that, they'd have to bring me on strapped to gurney."

Derek Walcott, the West Indies poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992, wrote a poem about Obama after his election. And the president-elect, who reportedly wrote poetry in high school and college, was recently photographed carrying a book of what looked like Walcott's poetry.

Walcott said there is a tradition of poets speaking for their country.

"There have been great occasional poets -- poets who write on occasion," he said. "Tennyson was one. I think Pope was another. Frost also."

"I think it's a good idea," he said. "Every nation and every tribe should celebrate at least one poet who is the voice of the tribe. And I don't think poets mind doing that. . . . There are great things that in times of national grief can console, and in times of national joy they can elevate."

"Normally, in the history of the function of poetry, the poet laureate, the poet who is the voice officially of the tribe, that's his job," he said. "Homer did that."

Frost was the first poet to read at an inauguration. Then 86, he was flummoxed by wind, cold and sun glare when he tried to read "Dedication," the poem he had written for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. He eventually gave up and recited from memory another poem, "The Gift Outright."

Thirty-two years and six presidents passed before Maya Angelou read "On the Pulse of Morning" at the Clinton inauguration in 1993. Four years later, Arkansas poet Miller Williams read "Of History and Hope" at Clinton's second inauguration.

"I don't envy a poet chosen to do an inaugural poem because it's an extremely difficult moment to capture," former poet laureate Rita Dove said. "How do you catch the muse at that moment and make it private for every person and at the same time very public. So it's an admirable task [that] no one would refuse if they were asked, but you would kind of go, 'Oh, my God.' "

The poet needs to be inspired, she said. "Inspiration is a tricky thing," she said. "It comes and goes as it pleases. I find that sometimes I am so inspired that I am speechless. I have no words."

Swenson, of the academy of poets, said: "Great art is not summoned up on command. . . . You find the great art that rhymes with the occasion."

Former laureate Charles Simic said: "It's a nice idea . . . but it's not an easy one to do justice to.. . . It's a tough assignment. . . . It's not something that can be made to order. Going back through American poetry, I bet Walt Whitman could write one. But a lot of great poets that we've had . . . could not have done it."

Poems are complicated and are often written over a long period of time, he said. "The best stuff that happens in poems you cannot will," he said. "I can't, for example, lock you in a room and say, 'Give me a great metaphor.' You can't. I can't, if somebody pointed a gun a me."

Simic and other poets were asked by the Washington Post to write poems prior to Clinton's inauguration in 1993. "It was sort of interesting," he said, although he doesn't recall the poem well.

Kooser said it is hard for a poet to write unless he or she is inspired. "Writing on assignment doesn't work very well," he said. "It does hearken back to the poet laureates of England who were always called upon at occasions of state to get up and read a poem."

The ceremony will also include music by Aretha Franklin and a piece composed by John Williams and performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Gabriela Montero, and clarinetist Anthony McGill.

The Oath of Office will be administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and the benediction will be given by civil rights figure the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, who co-founded, with Martin Luther King Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Navigating Washington During the Inauguration

Monday, Dec. 15, 2008; A12

Washington area officials estimate that 2 million to 4 million people will try to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20. Information about getting to Washington and getting around:

AIRLINES: Tickets were still available as of late last week.

US Airways is adding 27 flights into the area's three main airports Jan. 17 and 18 and 16 departing flights Jan. 20 and 21.

Southwest has added 26 flights to Washington Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports.

United is adding nine flights and flying larger planes for 35 flights.

AIRPORT PARKING: Allow extra time. Reagan National Airport travelers can check live parking conditions at http://www.metwashairports.com.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said he doesn't expect many inaugural visitors to use regular airport parking lots, because the BWI rail station has 3,200 spots.

ROADS: Roads will be closed Jan. 20 within a still-to-be-determined security cordon near the Mall and the Capitol. Bridges across the Potomac River and certain major roads into downtown Washington will be restricted to buses and authorized vehicles.

PARKING: Meter fees and parking regulations in Washington will be suspended for the day. Garages outside the security boundary can open at their owners' discretion; those inside will be closed.

TAXIS: It is unclear how many or where cabs will be available until security officials disclose how much of downtown will be blocked off.

AMTRAK: Amtrak is adding service between Boston and Washington based on reservations. Some cars with sleeping berths were nearly sold out.

METRO: Metrorail will operate rush-hour service for 15 hours Jan. 20 (4 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and will stay open for an extra two hours (until 2 a.m.). It will also offer free parking at its lots. Capacity is 120,000 people an hour, in the best-case scenario. Officials urge riders to spread out their trips, especially after the main events, by going to restaurants, movies or museums. Riders are also encouraged to pay fares in advance, such as by using the commemorative Farecard. For information, visit http://www.wmata.com.

Metro officials say that people who live or are staying within two miles of the Mall should walk. That includes an area bordered roughly by the Metro stations of Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan, Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, Navy Yard, Stadium-Armory and Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood.

COMMUTER RAIL AND BUS: MARC and Virginia Railway Express commuter rail and Maryland commuter buses plan to run special service Jan. 20. Together, they will be able to carry about 50,000 people that day. The trains will arrive at Union Station; the commuter buses will travel from park-and-ride spots to Metro stations on the region's fringe.

MARC and VRE tickets for the day must be bought in advance. Bus fares can be bought Inauguration Day.

VRE tickets go on sale Tuesday; forms can be found at http://www.vre.org.

MARC tickets will be sold between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Camden and Monocacy MARC stations; only cash will be accepted. Riders can also visit http://www.commuterdirect.com or call 703-228-7433.

CHARTER BUSES: About 10,000 charter buses are expected in the Washington area. Washington has found parking for 5,000 and is working out how to get people to and from events. For information about charter bus permits, visit http://www.dc.gov. Charter bus companies can register for parking at http://2009inauguration.clickandpark.com.

About 4,700 buses will probably park at Metrorail-accessible locations, including RFK Stadium and Metrorail parking lots.

BICYCLES: Bicycles will not be allowed within the security cordon. Bicycle valet parking might be set up in areas just outside the cordon. Metro officials have not decided whether to allow bikes on trains.

-- Lena H. Sun and Eric M. Weiss