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The State of Our Union

On February 1, 2015, the first-ever People’s State of the Union culminated in a Poetic Address to the Nation, performed and live-streamed from the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. U.S. Department of Arts and Culture Deputy Secretary, Norman Beckett, gave the following introductory remarks:

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the 2015 Poetic Address to the Nation. I’m Norman Beckett, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture and it’s a great honor to be with you here this evening. Whether you’re in the room tonight or tuning in for the live broadcast, thank you for your creative presence on this historic occasion.

I’d like to provide a little context for what we’re about to hear. As we all know, the President gave his State of the Union address last week. It was a speech from one to many, followed by a whole bunch of talking heads competing to tell us what it all means. Here at the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, we know that democracy is a conversation, not a monologue. So, over the last week we hosted People’s State of the Union events nationwide, inviting neighbors together to share stories that reflect their own take on the state of our union.

More than 150 communities took part. From 10th grade English classrooms in California to homeless shelters in Indiana, from circus groups in New Mexico to universities in Nebraska, from youth organizing initiatives in Ferguson, Missouri to immigrant theater troupes on Staten Island in New York, we’ve come together, young and old, to sit in circles, share our truths, and listen deeply. We’ve filled our museums, community centers, libraries, places of worship, living rooms, and public parks with stories, forging new bonds of empathy through a shared, participatory ritual of reflection and connection.

In so doing, we’ve embodied the simple truth that the state of the union is not an annual declaration, but something that we create together everyday.

So, what state of union will we choose to create?

What are the ways of being together and the habits of the heart that will define our State of Union?

And what new civic rituals might we enact to forge a path toward the “more perfect union” that our Constitution calls for—one in which “we the people” includes an ever enlarged “we”?

In the words of USDAC Secretary of Revolutionary Imagination, Makani Themba: “We, who know that Truth is not bound by headlines or heads of state, Let US forge a state of union where love is justice and justice is love.”

Folks, this is the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, after all, so it should come as no surprise to you that our address tonight—our expression of that state of union where love is justice and justice is love—is a poem.

Yesterday, our poets came together—many meeting each other for the first time—to read the hundreds of stories that have been submitted and to create the poem we’re about to hear. The ink is still wet and this is the first time it has ever been read aloud.

Without further ado, spearheaded by USDAC Minister of Poetry Bob Holman, written collaboratively by 20 poets, based on stories shared at more than 150 events nationwide, please put your hands together for the 2015 Poetic Address to the Nation!”

Visit to read/watch the Poetic Address to the Nation.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2015

All Issues