Starting Today

100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days
Rachel Zucker
Arielle Greenberg
Foreword Author(s): 
Rita Dove

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210 pages, 6 x 9 inches

“I love this idea, and I love these poems. The poem-a-day breeziness of the work is instructive not only to poets but also to cultural and academic critics, and Starting Today will be an important cultural and historical document. The editors cast a wide net when considering poets for this project and then trusted the poets themselves to come up with quality work. In doing so, they have accomplished something amazing. Obama is known for assembling strong teams—and the editors have done this as well. The poets, representing various schools, approach their poetry ‘assignment’ with vigor, intelligence, and wit.”—Denise Duhamel, author, Ka-Ching! and Two and Two

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”—Barack Obama, inaugural address, January 20, 2009

Starting Today contains 100 poems written during—and responding to—Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office. The poems included in this anthology, except for Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem, were all written no more than a day before they appeared on the popular blog, “Starting Today: Poems for the First 100 Days.”  The result is a work that documents the political and personal events of those crucial days through a variety of contemporary poetic voices, from the ebullient to the admiring, from the pithy to the loquacious.

Editors Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg explain in their enthusiastic introduction: “In those jittery, pre-inaugural hours, it became clear to us that our exhilaration stemmed, in part, from the knowledge that we were not alone in our enthusiasm. We knew others felt called to action just as we were. That same afternoon we compiled an e-mail list of poets—friends, acquaintances, and folks we admire—from across the country and across generations. Could we get one hundred poets to commit to writing a new poem during the first one hundred carefully watched days of the new presidency? And could we get them to respond overnight, so that our project would coincide with Barack Obama beginning his job? Yes, we could! Poets wrote back immediately and with gusto.”

Difficult to categorize but easy to enjoy, the poems in Starting Today offer something for every type of poetry reader, from the novice to the seasoned. This smart, timely collection offers a swirling portrait of the American Zeitgeist—a poetic reportage that demonstrates spontaneity, collaboration, immediacy, and accessibility.


Elizabeth Alexander
Craig Arnold
Marvin Bell
Mark Bibbins
Mark Doty
Cornelius Eady
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Brenda Hillman
Fanny Howe
Major Jackson
Allison Joseph
Wayne Koestenbaum
David Lehman
Michael Morse
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Kevin Prufer
Matt Rohrer
Brenda Shaughnessy
Cole Swensen
Anne Waldman
Susan Wheeler

Table of contents: 

Foreword by Rita Dove xi

Introduction by Rachel Zucker & Arielle Greenberg xiii

DAY 1: Elizabeth Alexander, Praise Song for the Day 1

DAY 2: Matthew Rohrer, Poem 3

DAY 3: Martha Silano, His Springboard Resolve 4

DAY 4: Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Overwinter 5

DAY 5: Fanny Howe, Imagine All the People 6

DAY 6: Yvette Thomas, Missing Metaphor for Time 7

DAY 7: Patricia Smith, Man, Roll the Window Down! 8

DAY 8: Lyn Lifshin, Michelle’s Citrine Dress 10

DAY 9: Sasha Steensen, Wintry Weather and Job Slaughter 11

DAY 10: John Paul O’Connor, New Time Old Time 13

DAY 11: LesleÅLa Newman, Prayer for a President 15

DAY 12: Rebecca Wolff, The Most Famous Man in the World 16

DAY 13: Matthew Zapruder, Sad News 17

DAY 14: Cornelius Eady, Praise for the Inaugural Poet, January, 2009 18

DAY 15: Caroline Klocksiem, Do-Over Like Sky 19

DAY 16: Rachel Zucker, Dear Mr. President, I Thought You Should Know 20

DAY 17: BJ Soloy, Last Migration, a Dead, Common Yellow- 21

DAY 18: Cole Swensen, Taking Cover under the Sun 23

DAY 19: Laurel Snyder, The Greatest Public Works Program 24

DAY 20: Cate Marvin, Song of the Bad Bank 26

DAY 21: Michael Dumanis, Occasionally, I Write a Poem 27

DAY 22: Major Jackson, A General Theory of Interest & Money or

Getting the Country in Bed 28

DAY 23: Erin Belieu, H. Res. 23-1: Proposing the Ban of Push-Up Bras, Etc. 30

DAY 24: Craig Morgan Teicher, When the Real American 31

DAY 25: David Lehman, February 12 32

DAY 26: Nin Andrews, Hoi Polloi 33

DAY 27: Diane Wald, Nonromantic Obama Valentine for America,

February 14th, 2009 34

DAY 28: Lisa Samuels, At the Save the World Breakfast 36

DAY 29: Brian Teare, Citizen Strophes (Oakland) 38

DAY 30: Katy Lederer, I Think You Are a Good Manager 41

DAY 31: Joyelle McSweeney, Poem for Comrade Duch 46

DAY 32: Mark Doty, Skulls Are So Last Year 48

DAY 33: Elizabeth Scanlon, What People Say 50

DAY 34: Katie Ford, You Are No Messiah 51

DAY 35: Mark Bibbins, A Small Gesture of Gratitude 52

DAY 36: Lindsey Wallace, System Error 56

DAY 37: Todd Fredson, Air and Simple Things 57

DAY 38: Geraldine Kim, Ehhhbb, Ooo, Oommmoo, Eeeoooooooooo 58

DAY 39: Kevin Prufer, Behind the Barracks, after the War 60

DAY 40: David Roderick, In Some Places They Held Picnics 61

DAY 41: Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Poem for Barack Obama 62

DAY 42: John Beer, My Calamine Lotion 64

DAY 43: Ian Harris, Welcome to Hard Times 65

DAY 44: Nicole Cooley, Girl at the River 67

DAY 45: Erika Meitner, Slinky Dirt with Development Hat 69

DAY 46: Allison Joseph, Conservative Love in the Age of Obama 71

DAY 47: Linda Buckmaster, Harvest 72

DAY 48: Ann Fisher-Wirth, In Oxford, Mississippi 73

DAY 49: Jeff Encke, The Water in Which One Drowns Is Always an

Ocean 75

DAY 50: Anne Waldman, Shadow for Obama 77

DAY 51: Marvin Bell, The Book of the Dead Man (Day 51) 80

DAY 52: Catherine Wagner, Oh 82

DAY 53: Leah Souffrant, Imperfect Plenty 84

DAY 54: Patricia Spears Jones, What the Fates Allow 86

DAY 55: Kazim Ali, Random Search 88

DAY 56: Wayne Koestenbaum, Sick Poem 89

DAY 57: Sally Ball, Racial Parable with No Black People 91

DAY 58: Carmen GimeÅLnez Smith, Hey, Obama 92

DAY 59: Patrick Culliton, Song 93

DAY 60: Catherine Barnett, Small Parable for the Sixtieth Day 94

DAY 61: Amy Lemmon, Audacious: An Acrostic 95

DAY 62: Arielle Greenberg, Whose Mission It Is Only to Pray 96

DAY 63: Mendi Lewis Obadike, Parable of the Lucky Man 98

DAY 64: Jenny Factor, A Ghazal for Hope 99

DAY 65: Michael Morse, Void and Compensation (Wizards and Bulls) 101

DAY 66: Sarah Vap, Against One Another Like Glass 104

DAY 67: Brenda Shaughnessy, Citizen 105

DAY 68: Laura Mullen, Daisies 106

DAY 69: Elizabeth Hughey, The I Love You Bridge 108

DAY 70: A. Van Jordan, “The Farmers Have Won. Not Us.” 110

DAY 71: Dara Wier, Salmagundi Algorithm 111

DAY 72: Tony Trigilio, I Picked Up That Strange Light Again 112

DAY 73: MoÅLnica de la Torre, Onto the World Stage 114

DAY 74: Michele Battiste, What He Said 115

DAY 75: Susan Wheeler, Song of the G-20 Gone 117

DAY 76: Martha Collins, To Listen to Lead To 118

DAY 77: Betsy Fagin, “Not a Panacea but a Critical Step” 119

DAY 78: Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Rite (to Forge Armor for an Orphan) 120

DAY 79: Patricia Carlin, Thinking My Way Out of a Paper Bag 121

DAY 80: Chris Green, Today 122

DAY 81: Sean Thomas Dougherty, Elevator or Poem Written the Day after

Not Showing Up for a Reading at an Embassy Official’s House 123

DAY 82: Craig Arnold, Dear Steve 125

DAY 83: Kathrine Varnes, Some Kind of Secret Fruit 127

DAY 84: cin salach, The First Easter, 2009 128

DAY 85: Jen Hofer, who is speaking—nominal substances—who listening—

anchor, bluster, filter—to whom listen—flattering machinations fluster the

skies—substances—from the skies—operations fall—to be purchased—

inked into existence—information conveyed, trucked, stowed, migrated—

on the verge of 130

DAY 86: Becca Klaver, I Didn’t Buy It 133

DAY 87: John Gallaher, There Are Many Theories about What Happened 134

DAY 88: Susan Briante, Letter to a Former Presidential Candidate 135

DAY 89: Paul Killebrew, Varieties of Religious Experience 137

DAY 90: Joshua Corey, When I Heard the Learn’d Spokesmen 138

DAY 91: Jason Schneiderman, Oracular 139

DAY 92: Joy Katz, How Poetry Saved America 141

DAY 93: Robin Beth Schaer, Endangerment Finding 143

DAY 94: Laynie Browne, Obama Ps (alm) 144

DAY 95: Sean Cole, Freehand 145

DAY 96: Prageeta Sharma, Stalked by a Prisoner of Texas 146

DAY 97: Pimone Triplett, Market Storm 147

DAY 98: Brenda Hillman, Guilt Armada 148

DAY 99: Jenny Browne, 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project 150

DAY 100: Thomas Sayers Ellis, First Grade, All Over Again 151

Biographies and Process Notes 155

Acknowledgments 187

Index 189


From Day #58, "Hey, Obama" by Carmen Giménez Smith

My sister calls because we can get my mother health insurance for one thousand dollars a month. This is because my mother has dementia. This is because she has an upside down mortgage and no pension. Do you see where I'm going with this? I can hardly believe it myself; like David Plouffe is writing this for you through me. It's hard-core stump material. She's brown, by the way, which could help too if you put her up on a stage with you to sign a paper that said that she didn't have to pay half her wages to be insured. I'd write to Oprah, but I think they would just give her a makeover.