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Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A 'Challenge'

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Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A 'Challenge'

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Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A 'Challenge'

Poet Calls Writing Inaugural Poem A 'Challenge'

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Hear More Of Alexander's Poetry

"Washington Etude"

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"Autumn Passage"

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Poet Elizabeth Alexander was chosen Wednesday to read at Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.

Alexander, the author of five books of poetry and a professor of African-American studies at Yale University, taught at the University of Chicago with Obama and considers him a friend.

She grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. In 1963, when she was a year old, her parents took her to the National Mall to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have A Dream" speech.

In a conversation with Melissa Block, Alexander says she does not feel scared, but rather challenged, to come up with a poem for the historic moment.

"I've been trying out phrases and ideas and meditating and looking through scraps of things that I've been noting," she says. "It's been a time of tremendous feeling and tremendous thought."

"In that moment, really I am the vessel for the poem," she says. "It's not about the poet at that moment, it's about the poem. So the pressure — the challenge — is to write a poem that can serve ... all of those expectant, gathered millions and to let the poem be what calms my nerves when I am up there. To let myself remember that I am there to deliver these words and these words have been commissioned to deliver a very, very amazing moment."