"To have great poetry there must be great audiences, too," Walt Whitman said. He was talking about the quality of a poet's readers. But there is little doubt, given the intense global interest in President-elect Barack Obama, that Ms. Alexander's verse will be broadcast to more people at one time than any poem ever composed. This may not be American poetry's Academy Award moment. But it is, for Ms. Alexander, an outsize platform.
What the world will hear at Mr. Obama's inauguration is the work of a woman whose verse makes a sharply different kind of music from that of any of the inaugural poets who have preceded her.