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
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.