The Great Poem Series: Elizabeth Alexander’s “Rally”

David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series is filled with an overwhelming amount of significant poets and poems.  That said, in the 2011 Best American Poetry volume, one of my favorite featured poets would definitely have to be Elizabeth Alexander. Alexander’s poem,“Rally”, connects back to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in mid October when she noticed a shift; the Obama campaign was accepting that there was a chance that he would not become president while also being proud that they had taken apart of and worked hard on a historical campaign.   Later on in Elizabeth’s year she composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the inauguration in 2009. Elizabeth Alexander has written many pieces in support of or relating to Obama’s campaign.

Alexander’s poem “Rally” maintains that every community is faced with hard struggles and that these struggles  will always impact society, whether it is in a positive or negative way. No matter how hard everybody’s struggles may be throughout their lives, Alexander focuses in on how important it is to keep moving forward. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign influenced this opinion. After Alexander personally experienced President Obama’s campaigns in Ohio, she developed a strong belief that history will always move forward on its own, and that we can only see what history will bring us. She took this opinion and wrote her poem “Rally”, which shares her experience with the  campaign in a compelling way.

The poem starts off extremely powerful in a way that grabbed my attention as a reader. Immediately it jumps into describing the  “awesome weight” of the nation and how it has “not yet descended” or experienced a dramatic downfall since the mid 1900s .  Here I paused, I was interested and compelled to read the whole thing. Many say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but in poetry the saying changes to “don’t judge a book by its first line”. However I must break this rule as  Elizabeth Alexander’s first line was so strong it got me to read the rest of her poem.   

One main theme in “Rally” is change, which is also, not so coincidentally, a trademark of the Obama campaigns. Beginning with descriptive details on how the audience below the stage was “silent” as they sat and “listened” and continued to “dream” of an Obama presidency, while slowly moving into the transformation of the audience was very effective. After evaluating the silent crowd, she next created an image of the “noise” that was generated throughout the community, which ultimately turned into “loud and loud and loud” as the people surrounding the stage became excited and impassioned .  I personally enjoyed the simile in the fourth stanza examining the audience to be “as loud as the sea” (Alexander 1). I believe that Alexander’s descriptive language is what produced such a successful poem, as well as her transitions between subjects, starting  with one thing and moving really fast into a better outcome. This definitely interested me as the reader. The main focus behind the change from the crowd goes back to her original belief; that struggling in the beginning of something does not always mean there is going to be a negative outcome. In the situation in “Rally” the narrator seems to be on a stage giving a speech, in which they “did their best”, but started off roughly because the crowd was “silent” until one moment where the cheering became endless. Immediate change can come out of nowhere.

Another theme included in “Rally”,  is confidence. She provides the audience with diction that exemplifies cockiness by using  specific words like “athlete” and “jock”.   The word athlete also suggests strength and endurance while “jock”  or an enthusiast or participant in a specified activity suggests competitiveness and passion. Including this language throughout her poem initiates the narrator’s speech before it takes place, giving the reader an idea of what the narrator’s speech will be like, what it will speak of. But, Elizabeth then switches it up by having the audience question the narrator’s speech as they stay completely “silent” for a long amount.  

One last theme that helped make “Rally” such a strong poem was the last stanza. Elizabeth Alexander leaves her readers hanging as she claims everything was “not yet fixed nor could be” (Alexander 1). By leaving the readers with a questionable ending, she allows them to come up with their own conclusions, much like the Obama campaign, the uncertainty of the outcome of the election.

A video of the poem read out loud can be found on YouTube. 

Elizabeth Alexander has written many books of poems, including American Sublime, which was published in 2005. Alexander is connected to the White House, as she delivered a poem in honor of Barack Obama’s inauguration eight years ago. The Obama campaign has influenced and impacted many of her recent poems, including “Rally”. She strongly believes in hard-work  because it influences the outcome of every situation whether it be a campaign or not . Elizabeth talks about the hope that was represented in the progress of the Obama’s campaign, which she believes made history.

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