Anyone for Tennyson is a series of articles about poetry

Amanda Gorman . . . Inspiring a nation

At President Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman, self-described as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” became one of America’s most recognized and lauded living poets.

Amanda Gorman reciting her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climbed.”

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

With these words, delivered at President Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman, self-described as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” became one of America’s most recognized and lauded living poets.

Born in Los Angeles in 1998, Gorman grew up in a supportive environment. Her single mother was an English teacher who continued to study while raising her children, ultimately earning a doctorate in education. Her grandmother was a journalist. Amanda could read and write at an early age and discovered that poetry was the best route to finding her own creative voice. She was later to write:

There’s a poem in Los Angeles
yawning wide as the Pacific tide
where a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.

Reciting poems also became a tool for overcoming a difficult speech issue. She and her twin sister both suffered from speech impediments, in Amanda’s case the inability to pronounce the letter “R”. She refused to see this as a weakness but as an opportunity to learn how to work through problems.  A future indicator of her success was her cum laude graduation from Harvard.

Gorman has always been an activist in the best sense of the word. Where other budding poets have begun their careers with poems about nature, or juvenile imitations of other writers, Gorman wrote about human rights and the search for a better world.  Thereafter she would address racial equality and social justice with messages of hope and healing.

* * *

In 2017 Amanda Gorman was named the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, and in the tradition of Britain’s Laureates, she has composed or recited poems for a number of special occasions.  Here are several with excerpts from the poems.

United Nations General Assembly 2022. “An Ode We Owe”

Thus may our crisis be our cry, our crossroad,
The oldest ode we owe each other.
We chime it, for the climate,
For our communities.
We shall respect and protect
Every part of this planet,
Hand it to every heart on this earth,
Until no one’s worth is rendered
By the race, gender, class, or identity
They were born. This morn let it be sworn
That we are one human kin,
Grounded not just by the griefs
We bear, but by the good we begin.

Library of Congress 2017. “In This Place (An American Lyric)”

There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
It is here, at the curtain of day,
where America writes a lyric
you must whisper to say.

There’s a poem in this place—
in the heavy grace,
the lined face of this noble building,
collections burned and reborn twice.

There’s a poem in this place—
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who rewrites this nation, who tells
a story worthy of being told on this minnow of an earth
to breathe hope into a palimpsest of time—
a poet in every American
who sees that our poem penned
doesn’t mean our poem’s end.

There’s a place where this poem dwells—
it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell
where we write an American lyric
we are just beginning to tell.

Among other settings, Gorman has written for the installation of a new President at Harvard and, most remarkably, in 2021 she wrote and performed a poem at Super Bowl 55 (Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9).

* * *

Now a celebrity, Gorman became a Co-Chair of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala. Her clutch is shaped in the form of a poetry book.

* * *

One of Gorman’s major and most popular poems, “New Day’s Lyric,” was written two years ago to, as she said, “celebrate the New Year and honor the hurt and humanity of the last one.”

May this be the day
We come together.
Mourning, we come to mend,
Withered, we come to weather,
Torn, we come to tend,
Battered, we come to better.
Tethered by this year of yearning,
We are learning
That though we weren’t ready for this,
We have been readied by it.
We steadily vow that no matter
How we are weighed down,
We must always pave a way forward.

This hope is our door, our portal.
Even if we never get back to normal,
Someday we can venture beyond it,
To leave the known and take the first steps.
So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next.

What was cursed, we will cure.
What was plagued, we will prove pure.
Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,
Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,
Where we weren’t aware, we’re now awake;
Those moments we missed
Are now these moments we make,
The moments we meet,
And our hearts, once all together beaten,
Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,
For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.
We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,
But to take on tomorrow.

We heed this old spirit,
In a new day’s lyric,
In our hearts, we hear it:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
Be bold, sang Time this year,
Be bold, sang Time,
For when you honor yesterday,
Tomorrow ye will find.
Know what we’ve fought
Need not be forgot nor for none.
It defines us, binds us as one,
Come over, join this day just begun.
For wherever we come together,
We will forever overcome.

* * *

A red beret and a ready smile

* * *

As might be expected, Gorman has regularly reached out to children, and her recent book, “Something, Someday,” closes with this:

Suddenly, there’s something
You’re sure is right.
Something you know
You helped fix.
Something small that changed —
Something big.

Something that worked.
Something that makes you feel
Hopeful, happy, and loved.
Something that is not a dream,
But the day you live in.
Something that makes you smile
As you tell someone else.

Technically, Gorman’s poems are sometimes rhymed or near-rhymed, but more often she enjoys pure wordplay as in this piece called “Every Day We Are Learning:”

Every day we are learning
How to live with essence, not ease.
How to move with haste, never hate.
How to leave this pain that is beyond us
Behind us.
Just like a skill or any art.
We cannot possess hope without practicing it.
It is the most fundamental craft we demand of ourselves.

Or this potent quatrain:

Riots are red
Violence is blue
We’re sick of dying
How ‘bout you

At the end of the day, if you should ask Gorman what this poetry business is all about, she might answer, and has:

We write
Because you might listen.
We write because
We are lost
& lonely,
& you, like us,
Are looking
& learning.

And she will remind us that she seriously plans to run for President in 2036. She has already been endorsed by Hillary Clinton.

* * *

VIDEO.  This is for those who never saw Amanda Gorman’s appearance at President Biden’s inauguration or would like to see it again.  Such poise and purpose.