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It must rank as the grandest poetry gig on earth, with a potential audience of billions. It may also terrify the lucky – or unlucky – author into terminal blandness or toe-curling bombast. In spite of her window of worldwide exposure, few fellow-poets will envy the task that faces Elizabeth Alexander today in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, after musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and singers such as Aretha Franklin have done their turns.

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Away from the pomp and circumstance of Barack Obama's swearing in, a more discreet changing of the guard is taking place across Washington, DC. Thousands of George Bush's appointees will be clearing out their desks today and heading back to Texas. In their place will come wave after wave of tough-minded political operators from across America, but particularly from Chicago, who secured Barack Obama's victory through grit and determination.

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Under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln's white marble statue, Bruce Springsteen and a red robed gospel choir kicked off a four-day inaugural party on the National Mall yesterday, before an audience of tens of thousands.

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The US President-elect Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in a solemn morning service yesterday. Dressed in a black overcoat he was joined by Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the white marble sarcophagus above the grave of an unidentified soldier from the First World War.

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'W' leaves note for Obama in Oval Office desk

Continuing a White House ritual, President George Bush left a note in the Oval Office for President-elect Barack Obama today, wishing him well as he takes the reins of the executive branch.

World War II pilot invited to Obama's inauguration

Colonel McGee is one of the exclusive few to receive an invitation to Barack Obama's inauguration.

Inauguration diary: Chicago pastor denounces the US media as 'haters'

Like Banquo's ghost, the Rev Jeremiah Wright showed up at Howard University, Washington's all-black college at the weekend and proceeded to mock his former parishioner Barack Obama. The Chicago pastor who came close to dooming the Obama presidency with his "God Damn America" sermons took the opportunity to denounce the US media as "haters". "Barack got a new address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," said the Rev Wright, more in the mode of a stand-up comedian than a preacher. "He moved from lying on the corner of woe is me and it's they fault. Check him out. He now lives in a mansion on the corner of Praise God Boulevard and Thank you Jesus Avenue."

Can Obama match Abe Lincoln's gold standard?

Most inauguration speeches are dross. But a few inspire and unite the nation – and today America expects nothing less of its 44th president

The long search for Kennedy's successor

This afternoon, when Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office, America's 50-year quest to find a truly transformational leader will finally be over.

So, how well do you know Barack?

Every detail of his early life, marriage and political career has been under the microscope for months. But how much of his biography can you recite? John Walsh is your quizmaster

Obama Quiz: The answers

The insider's guide to Obama's new Washington power map

Where will Michelle get her hair cut? Where will David Axelrod thrash out budget deals at 2am? And where will Jon Favreau grab his sausage sandwiches to go?

The White House: A cardboard cutout

It's the Oval Office, but not as we know it. Artist Thomas Demand built a life-sized replica – and then destroyed it. Rob Sharp finds out why

Obama's Inauguration Day poem

Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet, will be continuing a grand tradition when her verse is declaimed today, says Boyd Tonkin

The new stars of Obama's West Wing

Forget CJ Cregg and Toby Ziegler. The new President's inner circle is infinitely more compelling than the cast of the hitTV show. Guy Adams introduces them

Through the keyhole at the White House

Tomorrow morning, the Obamas will wake up in some pretty cool digs. From FDR's private cinema to the bed where Barbra Streisand laid her head, Rupert Cornwell peers through the keyhole of America's historic – and iconic – First Residence

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket for the ball

This is beyond the pale. Some of us have been on our knees to high-ups in Washington in the hope they might – just might – be able to snag us a ticket to one of tonight's inaugural balls and now we read that Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced governor of Illinois, has two. And he isn't sure if he'll use them.

Stars strike a historic note for Obama

Under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln's white marble statue, Bruce Springsteen and a red robed gospel choir kicked off a four-day inaugural party on the National Mall yesterday, before an audience of tens of thousands.

Inauguration Diary: One day to go

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