When Elizabeth Alexander takes to the stage next week during the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama, she’ll become the fourth poet to perform at the inauguration of an American president. She follows in the tradition of Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, who read at Bill Clinton’s inaugurations in 1993 and 1997 respectively, and Robert Frost, who was selected by John F. Kennedy as the first official inaugural poet.

At Kennedy’s inauguration on January 20, 1961, 86-year-old Frost recited from memory his poem “The Gift Outright” — which was not the original plan. He had intended to read a poem composed especially for the occasion, “Dedication,” but because of the sun glare that day wasn’t able to see the paper on which it was typed out.

frost-cottageFrost penned “The Gift Outright” on one of his frequent visits to Key West. While vacationing on the isle he often stayed in a garden cottage (left) at the home of Jesse Porter, whose 1830s Caribbean Colonial-style abode is now the Key West Heritage House and Robert Frost Cottage.

Click here for information about the inaugural poets; click here to read “Dedication” (and to see the original with handwritten notes) and “The Gift Outright.” –Shannon McKenna Schmidt