Elizabeth Alexander Poems

Elizabeth Alexander is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American poets. She graduated from Yale and also holds a degree from Boston University. She’s spent her career promoting African American poetry. Her 2005 book, American Sublime, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize.


by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Butter’ by Elizabeth Alexander uses potent imagery to create a nostalgic vision of the home-cooked meals enjoyed in childhood.

This poem by Elizabeth Alexander reflects on a profoundly universal experience through a lens of personal experience. The poet's imagery overflowing with the savored joy of remembering the home-cooked meals that defined one's youth. It's a poignant and moving poem that illustrates how taste is such an intimately enduring and powerful element of nostalgia.

My mother loves butter more than I do,

more than anyone. She pulls chunks off

the stick and eats it plain, explaining

cream spun around into butter! Growing up


by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Equinox’ by Elizabeth Alexander is a heartfelt poem about death and how all living things are forced to contend with it. The speaker uses a creative metaphor comparing bees on the equinox to her grandmother. 

This poem is a truly wonderful Elizabeth Alexander piece of poetry that is, at once, specific and highly relatable. It uses a unique metaphor (comparing bees to a speaker's grandmother) to discuss death and its inevitability. No matter who one is or where they're from, a poem as well-written and heartfelt as this is relatable.

Now is the time of year when bees are wild

and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped

loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants

in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander read the poem, ‘Praise Song for the Day’ at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. It is an occasional poem praising the Americans’ role in nation-building.

This poem has received critical acclaim and is widely considered a powerful and moving poem, especially in the context of its original purpose as a poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration.

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

Affirmative Action Blues

by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Affirmative Action Blues’ appears in Elizabeth Alexander’s Body of Life (1996). This poem is about the incident of police brutality on Rodney King in 1991.

Right now two black people sit in a jury room

in Southern California trying to persuade

nine white people that what they saw when four white

police officers brought batons back like

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