The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius

“Somehow we do it.

“Somehow we weathered and became witnesses

“A nation that is not broken, but simply incomplete.”

It captured the national sentiment and earned it instant respect and worldwide fame. But Gorman’s poetry and activist inclinations do not spring from a vacuum. Instead, she is part of a continuum of writers, especially performance poets of color, who have used poetry to stimulate political action and rely on their art and platforms to draw attention to the current issues.

“Politics is the official business when you try to live together. And that’s a very rich subject for poetry, ”said Elizabeth Alexander, a former founding poet and president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s greatest supporter of the arts and humanities. “Poems imagine what lies ahead of us. Poems bring light into the dark so that we can see ahead. “

Previous founding poets have made similar calls for unity – but never at such a difficult time in American politics. When Maya Angelou read her poem “On the pulse of the morning” At Bill Clinton’s inauguration, she spoke about the colonial history of America and its different effects on Indians and African Americans, but urged other ethnic, religious and social groups to “put down roots … on the river” and work together as one nation.

Activism has always been an integral part of Gorman’s life. In interviews, she has spoken about how her mother raised her and her siblings through a lens of social justice. At their mostly white, private high school, Gorman and her twin sister have staged a revolt to protest the lack of diversity in their English curriculum. As a teenager, she was a United States delegate and started a nonprofit organization. One pen, one page, a platform for “for student storytellers to change the world.

She wrote poetry and told that Harvard Crimsonis an inherently activist act. “The personal is political,” said the Harvard graduate. The fact that as a white man you have the luxury of writing all of your poems about losing in the woods that you don’t have to question your race or gender is a political statement in itself. “

Gorman, the youngest poet winner at age 22, is part of a long line of color performance poets who have used verse as a weapon in their activism: Gwendolyn Brooks. Nikki Giovanni. Amiri Baraka. Miguel Piñero. Alurista. Miguel Algarín, co-founder of New York Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Gil Scott-Heron married politics with poetry and put everything on a buzzing beat. His contemporaries, The Last Poets, sprang from the Black Arts and Black Power movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s and used drums to punctuate fiery poems about popular power. Together with Scott-Heron, they are considered the godfathers of rap. And today Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, who incorporates the spoken word into his music, is a muse for the black life movement.

Gorman carried this legacy with him on Wednesday. Standing on the podium in her red headband and Cage bird ringGorman recited lines about the January 6th uprising, which took place on the same steps as she spoke. There was a moment she said in interviewsThis shifted the focus of her poem and inspired her to convey a message of unity while underscoring the clear divisions in the country.

“We saw a force that would destroy our nation instead of dividing it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she recited, referring to the unrest in the Capitol. “And that effort was almost successful. Although democracy can be delayed at regular intervals, it can never be permanently defeated. “

Her words echoed through the inaugural stage and the nation, and millions of people grasped their call for unity in a medium devoid of partisanship or high political rhetoric. Praise came in: Morgan State University offered her a position as a poet-in-residence. Hillary Clinton advocated their presidential aspirations. Both of the upcoming Gorman books, slated to be released in September, are Amazon’s best-selling books and can be found at slots # 1 and # 2 on the site.

Moreover, the effort and pressure to write a poem for the moment has not been lost to other poets, including those more experienced than Gorman. Jericho Brown, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor at Emory University, where he also serves as director of the creative writing program, said he and Gorman read at an event a few years ago. When Brown saw her reciting at a younger age, he knew her poetry career was going to flourish. The seamless inclusion of politics in her poems is both powerful and natural.

“To me politics is so important that it is not important,” he said. “I think of politics in my poetry as much as I think of breath in my body. When I breathe I don’t think about it. I do it because it has to be done. “

Danez Smith, a black, queer writer, performer, and National Book Award finalist, agreed.

“I belong to the school that thinks everything is political when you look at it from the right angle,” they said. “I think about my art in a political sense, but also that a lot of what I write goes back to the world, both in my own life and in a broader sense.”

The widespread popularity of Gorman’s poems, as evidenced by the millions of Twitter followers and book pre-orders it has received, also reflects its impact on mainstream conversation. Andrew Anabi, founder of Pool House, a New York-based poetry collective that posts inspirational poetry on its website and social media, said Gorman’s words were A symbol of the role that poetry can play in a time of widespread isolation. Poetry has so much value right now, he explained, because it is “a direct way to talk about difficult conversations”.

“In a world that is so fast [poetry] can really stop you, “said Anabi. “That can make people pay attention.”

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