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Barack the Bard

“Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me”

President-elect Barack Obama Poems to declaim. Between 1950 and 1960

So begins Barack Obama’s poem “Pop,” an ode to his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, which he penned at age 19 while a student at Occidental College. It was one of two published in the spring 1982 issue of Feast, the school’s literary journal. His second poem, “Underground,” was a bit more abstract, calling up visuals of wild apes in reckless abandon:

“The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water”

Other presidents who labored over the almighty verse were Abraham Lincoln, James Madison and Jimmy Carter. The Digital Reference Team of the Library of Congress has put together a guide to the Library’s poetry resources, including one that highlights presidents as poets.

And, although Obama (and his predecessors) stick to political punditry during their speeches and forgo their poetic prowess, that hasn’t stopped a verse or two being spoken on their behalf. Poets Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams were all guests of honor during past presidential inaugural festivities. Transcripts of the poems and videos of the readings are offered in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the guide.

For other Library poetry resources, visit its poetry site for information on the poet laureate, projects for students and teachers, and upcoming news and events.

A. President-elect Barack Obama. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Poems to declaim. Between 1950 and 1960. Prints and Photographs Division. SUMMARY: A man waves his eyeglasses while zealously reciting poetry from papers held in one hand. It appears that he has just bored his parrot, seated next to him on a perch, to sleep. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-87103 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: SWANN - no. 671 (A size) [P&P]