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Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

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.

(Precedent vs. President.)

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.

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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.

(7 Presidential Quotes About the Importance of Writing and Reading.)

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.

(List of Poetic Forms for Poets.)

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

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