The history of poetry at presidential inaugurations

Maya Angelou at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration
Newly sworn-in U.S. President Bill Clinton reaches out to hug poet Maya Angelou after she delivered her inaugural poem in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 1993.
Mark Lennihan | Associated Press

Today's ceremonies will be missing something that has marked the last two presidential inaugurations: Poetry.

While Barack Obama invited poets to recite original works at both of his swearings-in, inaugural poetry is a relatively new practice — and a rare one. It began with President John F. Kennedy in 1961, when Robert Frost took the podium to read "The Gift Outright."

It was a rather rocky reading: The 86-year-old Frost had trouble seeing his poem in the harsh light.

No president followed Kennedy's poetic lead until Bill Clinton was elected. Maya Angelou recited "On the Pulse of Morning" at his first inauguration, and her powerful recitation went on to win a Grammy Award.

Clinton repeated the tradition at his second inauguration with Miller Williams, but poetry was absent again until Barack Obama in 2009. To date, no Republican president has had poetry at his inauguration.

Inaugural poems

• 1961: Robert Frost's "The Gift Outright"

• 1993: Maya Angelou's "On the Pulse of Morning"

• 1997: Miller Williams's "Of History and Hope"

• 2009: Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day"

• 2013: Richard Blanco's "One Today"

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