So my brother just posted the text of President Obama’s speech at Selma, and reading through it, I was struck by how many poets he drew on to make his ideas clear and poignant. In particular, he is using them to tell us who we are as Americans, and although I feel very ambivalent about his championing the idea of American exceptionalism, I do like the idea of poets giving voice to the voiceless and telling truths that need to be told, strengthening people’s will to do good, necessary and difficult things. Here is a portion of the speech.
We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told…. We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”… We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”… When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”