Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Inaugural Poet?

To the left is, of course, newly elected President of the United States Matt Santos; to the right, poet Jimmy Santiago Baca.

In the course of Sunday night's grand finale for THE WEST WING, which I just got around to watching, there was a scene that went by so quickly I wasn't sure I hadn't imagined it. One of President Elect Santos's aides is going over the running order of the Inaugural program with the President Elect. We learn that Keb' Mo' is to perform on the steps of the Capitol. (and if his bluesy version of AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL isn't already on one of his CDs, I sure hope it will be on the next one -- though I suppose the purists who weighed in with denunciations of NUESTRO HIMNO may be outraged by this as well.) and then suddenly we hear the name of Jimmy Santiago Baca, who, it appears, is slotted to recite at the ceremony.

Now, the real life history of poets and inaugurals is odd enough. There's that cold January day when, troubled by breeze and glaring sun, Robert Frost, unable to read from the piece of paper he's holding, recites THE GIFT OUTRIGHT instead. Bill Clinton, emulating Kennedy in all too many things, brought his home state poet to the ceremonies as well, and so a nation seemingly unable to get too much of Maya Angelou was treated to a reading of THE PROMISE OF MORNING. Carter (and why is it Democrats seem more given to having poets on the program than the GOP? It's not like Dana Gioia wouldn't have been happy to read for Bush) brought James Dickey to town, but Dickey read at the Kennedy Center festivities, not the Inaugural proper.

So I waited through the next segments of THE WEST WING looking forward to the first appearance of a poet on the show since the episode in which a fictive nominee for top poet threatened to use her moment in the camera lights to cause trouble for the Bartlett administration. But it was not to be. Keb' Mo' got to play guitar and sing, and sell that many more recordings, but we didn't get a glimpse of Baca and he didn't get the product placement. Which is why I place his product here:

Still, it's intriguing that somebody involved with this production took the trouble to insert Baca's name into the script. I can't help wondering if it might have been the same person who, in an effort to communicate something to viewers of outgoing President Bartlett's intellectual range, made sure that we saw the cover of a book by Foucault as the movers were packing up the oval office. As one day another crew will pack Bush's signed copies of Michael Crichton's books --

Maybe in future election debates, some more than usually enterprising journalist might ask the candidates to name a poet they'd invite to recite at their inaugural.

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