Today, there was once again an inaugural poet. After President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in, Amanda Gorman (the nation's first ever National Youth Poet Laureate) read her poem "The Hill We Climb." She became the fifth inaugural poet of my lifetime, but only the sixth ever.
Since it's a relatively new precedent for a president to choose a poet for Inauguration Day ceremonies, I thought I would run down who an inaugural poet is, who they have been, which presidents have chosen them, and which poems they've read.
Who Is an Inaugural Poet?
An inaugural poet is a poet who reads a poem as part of the presidential inauguration ceremonies. The first one was Robert Frost at the inauguration for President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and the most recent was today's performance by Amanda Gorman for President Joe Biden.
While I don't think poetry is a partisan activity, there have been six inaugural poets selected by four presidents, all of whom have been Democrats (Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Biden).
Interestingly, Robert Frost wrote a poem specifically for the inauguration that he was unable to read because of the sunlight reflecting off the paper. So he improvised and recited his poem "The Gift Outright" from memory.
Who Are the Inaugural Poets, the Presidents Who Selected Them, and Their Poems?
Here is a list of the inaugural poets, the presidents who selected them, and their poems:
- 1961: Robert Frost read "The Gift Outright" for John F. Kennedy's inauguration
- 1993: Maya Angelou read "On the Pulse of Morning" for Bill Clinton's first inauguration
- 1997: Miller Williams read "Of History and Hope" for Bill Clinton's second inauguration
- 2009: Elizabeth Alexander read "Praise Song for the Day" for Barack Obama's first inauguration
- 2013: Richard Blanco read "One Today" for Barack Obama's second inauguration
- 2021: Amanda Gorman read "The Hill We Climb" for Joe Biden's inauguration
Whether you're writing for publication, extra money, or to tell personal stories, Writer's Digest University can help you get your writing career underway. Our expert instructors will provide advice, specific instruction, real-world experience, expertise, and the motivation and drive to help you achieve your goals.