“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
— President John Fitzgerald Kennedy
I never realized Kennedy was a vocal supporter of poetry at all, but upon searching for context, I found this story from the Academy of American Poets about Robert Frost at Kennedy’s Inauguration. One of my favorite excerpts is this recollection:
Stewart L. Udall, who had met Frost during his tenure as poetry consultant at the Library of Congress, and who was invited by Kennedy to serve as Secretary of the Interior, suggested Frost take part in the inauguration ceremonies. Kennedy jokingly responded, “Oh, no. You know that Robert Frost always steals any show he is part of.”
Think of it… someone as charismatic as JFK thinking of being outshone by a poet (even if it was Robert Frost). Robert Frost is my go-to poet for proof that poetry was popular, communal, and highly-read in recent history. And this will be just another good story to store away as ammunition for those who wonder why I’m working on this project (though, quite honestly, that response is rare).
This made me curious, though. I know poetry is still (often?) a part of presidential inaugurations, but I wonder how enthusiastic or interested these presidents are in the poets and their poetry. Several inauguration poems were written for Obama in 2008 (including the one read at the ceremony), but has he even read them? Does he know they exist or care? Does it matter if he knows or cares?
Oh, politics and poetry, how you clash and come together at the same time.