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Anatomy of an Inaugural Poem

Diversity and the Maya Angelou Story

Evidence that Maya Angelou may have borrowed from another poem for the one she delivered at Bill Clinton's inauguration was reported in this magazine last December. The White House, having seen the December Chronicles and the subsequent news stories about it, appears to have opted to distance itself from Angelou rather than to defend her. Apparently, the White House is cognizant of the fact that at this point in the Clintons' presidency, it cannot risk yet another instance of things not being what they seem.

In 1985, Norton F. Tennille, Jr., a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the prestigious Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue law firm, wrote a poem, "Outward Bound," following a wilderness adventure with the North Carolina Outward Bound School, an educational organization that promotes self-reliance. It was widely distributed throughout North Carolina among individuals connected with the Outward Bound program. Tennille's poem begins "Rock, rope, river, hands" and uses those images, and that of the tree, as its structure. When Tennille heard Angelou deliver "On the Pulse of Morning," which opens with "A Rock, A River, A Tree," he immediately recognized the resemblance.

Tennille wrote to Angelou, who, during the days between her selection by Clinton and her reading at the swearing in ceremony, had met with individuals connected with Outward Bound and "shared her struggle"...

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