Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010


The first career retrospective by the award-winning poet Elizabeth Alexander, including her poem delivered at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration

We crave radiance in this austere world,
light in the spiritual darkness.
Learning is the one perfect religion,
its path correct, narrow, certain, straight.

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The first career retrospective by the award-winning poet Elizabeth Alexander, including her poem delivered at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration

We crave radiance in this austere world,
light in the spiritual darkness.
Learning is the one perfect religion,
its path correct, narrow, certain, straight.
—from “Allegiance”

Over twenty years, Elizabeth Alexander has become one of America’s most exciting and important poets, and her selection as the inaugural poet by President Obama confirmed her place as one of the indispensable voices of our time. Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010 gathers twenty pages of new poetry, along with generous selections from her previous work. The result is the definitive volume to date by this American master.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Alexander is now widely known as the poet who read her "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama's inauguration, but as this first retrospective volume attests, that poem was preceded by a substantial and varied body of work composed over the past 20 years. Alexander's two primary themes, which are interwoven into almost all of her poems, are the traumas of African-American history and the microcosm of the family, where those traumas show some of their effects and where their healing begins. Early poems look for heroes among artists and ancestors, as well as political figures, as in "A Poem for Nelson Mandela": "On a rooftop of a prison/ in South Africa Nelson Mandela/ tends garden and has a birthday/ as my Jamaican grandfather in Harlem... / raises tomatoes." In later poems, Alexander delves into black pop culture: "Was the Black Nation whispering to me/ from the Jet magazines stacked on the floor," she asks in "Tending." The book's most powerful sequence is a long series of poems recounting the 1839 rebellion on the slave ship Amistad, whose rebels were sequestered in New Haven (where Alexander lives and teaches), sparking a controversial trial. A selection of new poems, including "Praise Song," closes this volume, which will cement Alexander's status as much more than the inaugural poet. (Oct.)
Library Journal
When President Obama chose Alexander to participate in his inauguration, he shone a well-deserved light on her original, insightful, powerful poems. This collection offers 20 new pieces, including her inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day," along with generous selections from her previous work (e.g., American Sublime). The result is an inspiring volume that will assert and assure Alexander's proper place among the important poets of our age. Offering exciting and unexpected appropriations of history, pop culture, biography, and even dreams—in fact, especiallydreams—her lyrical narratives and pensive meditations open doors to rooms most readers have never seen, let alone entered. As she shows us around, the world we think we know is rolled about like the colorful chips at the end of a kaleidoscope. "In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,/ any thing can be made, any sentence begun./ On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,/ praise song for walking forward in that light." VERDICT Highly recommended for all readers of contemporary poetry, especially those interested in African American literature.—Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
From the Publisher
“Alexander is an unusual thing, a sensualist of history, a romanticist of race. She weaves biography, history, experience, pop culture and dream. Her poems make the public and private dance together.” —Chicago Tribune
Library Journal
"We crave radiance in this austere world," says Alexander, perhaps best known as President Obama's inaugural poet but a favorite of poetry lovers everywhere. This collection includes over 20 pages of new work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975685
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Alexander is the author of five previous books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and two books of essays, including The Black Interior. She is the chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

From The Venus Hottentot (1990)*

The Venus Hottentot 3

West Indian Primer 8

Ladders 9

Zodiac 10

The Dirt-Eaters 11

House Party Sonnet: '66 14

Nineteen 15

Omni-Albert Murray 16

Robeson at Rutgers 22

Van Der Zee 23

Bearden 25

Deadwood Dick 26

Painting 27

Monet at Giverny 28

Farewell to You 29

Penmanship 31

Letter: Blues 32

Boston Year 34

A Poem for Nelson Mandela 35

Today's News 36

From Body of Life (1996)*

Stravinsky in L.A. 39

The Josephine Baker Museum 40

Yolande Speaks 45

Fugue 47

The Texas Prophet 48

Talk Radio, D.C. 49

Passage 50

Summertime 52

Washington ãtude 53

Apollo 55

What I'm Telling You 56

Butter 57

Compass 58

Frank Willis 61

Family Stone 63

Six Yellow Stanzas 64

Blues 70

Affirmative Action Blues 72

Haircut 74

Judge Gets Grandma to Whip Offender 76

For Miriam 77

L.A. by Night 79

Harlem Birthday Party 80

Body of Life 82

Blues 86

Equinox 87

At the Beach 88

Cleaning Out Your Apartment 89

Tending 90

Leaving 91

After 92

From Antebellum Dream Book (2001)*

Fugue 95

Elegy 100

Overture: Watermelon City 101

Early Cinema 103

Visitor 105

Geraniums 107

Islands Number Four 108

Nat Turner Dreams of Insurrection 109

Race 110

Baby 111

Crash 112

The Toni Morrison Dreams 113

"The female seer will burn upon this pyre" 117

War 118

Peccant 119

Opiate 120

After the Gig: Mick Jagger 121

Postpartum Dream #8 122

Postpartum Dream #12: Appointment 123

The Party 125

Orange 126

Visitation 128

Feminist Poem Number One 129

Gift 130

Narrative: Ali 131

Neonatology 143

From American Sublime (2005)*

Emancipation 157

Smile 158

Tina Green 159

When 160

Five Elegies 161

Stray 166

Fried Apples 167

The Dream That I Told My Mother-in-Law 168

Black Poets Talk about the Dead 170

The African Picnic 171

Autumn Passage 173

Ars Poetica #1,002: Rally 174

Ars Poetica #17: First Afro-American Esperantist 177

Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder 178

Ars Poetica #23: "Whassup G?" 179

Ars Poetica #21: Graduate Study of Literature 180

Ars Poetica #92: Marcus Garvey on Elocution 181

Ars Poetica #56: "Bullfrogs Was Falling Out of the Sky" 183

Ars Poetica #16: Lot 184

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe 185

Ars Poetica #88: Sublime 186


Amistad 187

The Blue Whale 188

Absence 189

boy haiku 190

Poro Society 191

Approach 192

Connecticut 193

Other Cargo 194

Education 195

The Yale Men 197

Teacher 198

Translator 199

Physiognomy 201

Constitutional 203

Mende Vocabulary 204

The Girls 205

Kere's Song 206

Judge Judson 207

In Cursive 208

God 209

Waiting for Cinque to Speak 210

The Amistad Trail 211

Cinque Redux 212

The Last Quatrain 213

American Sublime 214

Tanner's Annunciation 215

From Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (2007)*

Knowledge 219

Good-bye 220

Study 221

We 222

Lawyers 223

Allegiance 224

Water 225

Hunger 226

Call and Response 227

Cat 228

End 229

Julia Williams 230

New Poems

Luck 233

In D.C. 234

The Black Woman Speaks 235

Dream Book 236

Toomer 237

In the Aquarium 238

Bottle Tree 239

Hayden in the Archive 240

Poised 241

Stokely and Adam 242

In the FEMA Trailers 244

Rally 246

Praise Song for the Day 247

The Elders 249

One week later in the strange 250

Notes 253

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