I can’t believe the absurdity of the Best American Poetry series’ “Write and Inaugural Ode” contest. Could there be any “integrity” in a project (see list of magnilquent abstractions that they require be used in the poem) that requires that a line from the poem be taken from a poem in this year’s edition (or from the foreword or introduction). This, I am guessing, is to prove that you indeed have a copy of this year’s edition — a marketing ploy!

I suppose poets aren’t to be trusted to write inaugural odes on their own, uncoached by the aesthetics of Hallmark or the 30-second campaign ads available on YouTube. So much for going in “fear of abstractions” (as Pound suggested) — the Best American Poetry asks you to bathe in them. And why don’t they just ask you to write a poem about Barack Obama — must we be so sly? The election’s over!

This really did depress me, coming from such a visible and often provocative publication series. This is just asking poets to be dumb.

THE CHALLENGE: Write an Inaugural Ode


Write an inaugural ode, suitable for reading aloud on January 20, 2009. It must consist of sixteen lines broken into four quatrains, rhyme scheme optional. The ode must include one line lifted from a poem in The Best American Poetry 2008 or from the book’s foreword or introduction, and it must also include at least three of the following words: honor, integrity, faith, hope, change, power.

&tc. &tc.