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John Lundberg

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The Poetry of Obama's First 100 Days

Posted: 04/26/09 09:40 AM ET

The Obama administration will pass the 100 day mark this week, and you Obamaphiles out there that don't want to let go of the early, heady times might be interested in Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days, a poetic embodiment of the beginning of Obama's presidency. The site is chock-full of great poets, even attracting some big names like Mark Doty, David Lehman and Fanny Howe (who we featured here just last week).

Starting Today is organized by Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker, two poets who, after mulling the project over for a while, were finally convinced to give it a go by Obama's choice of the well-respected Elizabeth Alexander as inaugural poet. Greenberg told the website Village Soup, "This administration knows what it's doing, about poetry even." The two featured Alexander's Inaugural poem "Praise Song for the Day" on day one of the new administration. They asked friends and colleagues to fill the other 99 days, giving them some simple guidelines: "to write poems that respond, however loosely, to the presidency, the nation, the government or the current political climate."

Not surprisingly, most of the poems focus on Obama and see him in a positive light. Greenberg told the Soup, "I could probably count on one hand the number of poets who are conservative in their politics." John Beer pokes fun at his own Obama obsession in a lovable poem called "My Calamine Lotion":

Winter was hard: the whole Judith thing,
I seem to have less underwear than I used to,
or at least it's a chore to keep track of, turns up

in unexpected places, taxicabs, and Chicago
gets fucking cold in January, for reals.
And then I started dating Barack Obama.

Other poems, like Jason Schneiderman's "Oracular," offer a more guarded assessment. Here's an excerpt:

Remember: We
are not one.

Remember: We
are never each other.

When you want to see,
use a prism, not a lens.

When you want to hear,
there are many voices.

A nation is never
at one with itself.

Never.

Contributors do take aim at other political figures. Allison Joseph, in her poem "Conservative Love in the Age of Obama," shows some sympathy for Megan McCain:

I feel for you, girl, when
Rush and Newt are your party's sexiest dudes

One of my favorite poems on the site is one that Matt Rohrer must have written very quickly, as it was posted on day two of the new administration. We can forgive him that it's simply entitled "Poem":

On Tuesday at noon the
sun suddenly came out I
swear I said to my
daughter something was happening but
what and the stars don't
care about us who we
elect or when we listen to
the radio and hear it
say President Obama is going
to shut down the prison
the stars don't care they
are forever exploding hydrogen atoms
slowly depleting dying like us
to them if they thought
at all they'd think everything
we do is in prison
the president said we could
write poems again saying "president"
that people would have to
think about not just understand
like he said "science is
coming, people" to which my
son said "did he say
science?" I said "I know
it's hard to believe but
the new president said science"

It is still a little hard to believe. You can read all 100 days worth of poetry here.