After Vogon Poetry Years Of President Before Biden, Let's End Our Day With Amanda Gorman's Inauguration Poem

At Joe Biden's inaugural today, Amanda Gorman, who is 22, became the youngest poet ever to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. She's a perfect choice to bring back poetry after the literally artless years of the president before Joe Biden. And holy cats, while she may be early in her career, she's hardly a newcomer to writing — she's already a former National Youth Poet Laureate.

NPR notes that, like President Biden, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child; which was one reason she was attracted to poetry: "Having an arena in which I could express my thoughts freely was just so liberating that I fell head over heels, you know, when I was barely a toddler."

Not surprisingly, she feels a kinship with Maya Angelou as well:

"Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton," she says. "So I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle with a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage in the inauguration.

And oh, what a voice Gorman shared with us today!

Her poem "The Hill We Climb" is completely attuned to the moment of this new presidency, hopeful as in any beginning, but well aware of the work ahead, and as with Biden's public commemoration of the more than 400,000 Americans lost to the pandemic, grieving, but willing to risk hope again: "Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished."

Gorman also marvels at the fact that she, a "skinny Black girl / descended from slaves and raised by a single mother / can dream of becoming president / only to find herself reciting for one."

Heck, after this poem, we're ready to contribute to her 2036 campaign fund. She's already pretty much announced.

Gorman even takes one of Barack Obama's favorite allusions, about the unfinished work of building a "more perfect union" and gives it just a little tweak of her own, with the guy sitting right there and no doubt loving it.

We are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn't mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge a union with purpose.

The line that got the tears flowing for me was "We lift our gaze not to what stands between us, but to what stands before us." So much of the poem is about acknowledging grief and pain, and carrying on all the same. America needs so much work, but it's always been a work in progress:

Being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It's the past we step into, and how we repair it.

There you go, a lovely couplet that's more worthy, more useful, as a guide to doing America well, than all 45 pages of the now-scuttled "1776 Commission Report."

Gorman told the New York Times the poem was about half-finished when the January 6 coup attempt occurred, and that she had to include that threat in the poem as well:

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith, we trust.

For while we have our eyes on the future,

History has its eyes on us.

But, being America, we keep going. In lines that apply just as much to rebuilding democracy after the coup attempt as they do to surviving the pandemic, Gorman turns the prose of Biden's "Build Back Better" campaign slogan into verse:

So while once we asked,

How can we possibly prevail over catastrophe,

Now we assert,

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was,

But move to what shall be,

A country that is bruised but whole,

Benevolent but bold,

Fierce and free.

It's just a lovely poem, for a lovely new day of uncertainty and hope. Like every day, really.

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.

Please, have a very happy OPEN THREAD.

[NPR / NYT / Poem transcript: The Hill / NYT Education]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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