Amanda Gorman makes history as youngest known inaugural poet

Amanda Gorman Captures the Moment, in Verse

Lesson plan

  1. Read the articles below and watch the speech held by Amanda Gorman.
  2. Comment on the text in the poem and the use of imagery.
  3. Both Amanda Gorman and Joe Biden have struggled with speech impairment. Discuss how they both were able to overcome these obstacles.
  4. As you watch the speech, think about the following questions:
    • What do you notice?
    • What do you wonder?
    • What stands out to you?
    • Why might poets be tapped to read or speak at presidential inaugurations?

The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history will read a work she finished after the riot at the Capitol. “I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen,” she says.

“We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one … There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

FULL AMANDA GORMAN POEM BELOW:

The 22-year-old is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history:

 

Joe Biden has struggled with a stutter for most of his life. He has publicly described what that impediment does to a soul. So it is fitting that Biden ushered in his presidency with a speech about fragility, brokenness, and the possibility of overcoming the most intractable challenges. The speech was perhaps not a master class in public oratory. But it was a perfect mapping of language to self.

Amanda Gorman, the poet laureate who cracked the inauguration ceremony into a million pieces with her poem, was also a child who overcame a speech impediment, by writing poems. Speaking to NPR about her own stutter, she mentioned one of her predecessors, Maya Angelou, who also delivered an inaugural poem and was mute as a child. “I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle, a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage at inauguration,” she said. “So it’s really special for me.” Gorman’s voice was perhaps the most poignant symbol for millions and millions of Americans who have been struggling to speak truth in the face of years of dark, pixelated nonsense. Source: Slate news

In an interview with Adeel Hassan, she talks about what she felt as a child:

“I grew up at this incredibly odd intersection in Los Angeles, where it felt like the Black ’hood met Black elegance met white gentrification met Latin culture met wetlands. Traversing between these worlds, either to go to a private school in Malibu, or then come back home to my family’s two-bedroom apartment, gave me an appreciation for different cultures and realities, but also made me feel like an outsider. I’m sure my single mother, Joan Wicks, might describe me as a precocious child, but looking back in elementary school I often self-described myself as a plain ‘weird’ child. I spent most of elementary school convinced that I was an alien. Literally.”

It has been a remarkable journey for Ms. Gorman to have traveled from feeling like an alien to becoming first the Youth Poet of Los Angeles, then, three years later, the first National Youth Poet Laureate and now the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.

Watch her 2018 TEDEd talk, embedded above, to learn a little more about her. You will see that, in the tradition of a griot speaking truth to power, Ms. Gorman often turns to her literary mantra, “I am the daughter of Black writers, who are descended from Freedom Fighters, who broke the chains who changed the world. They call me.”

  • What does she say in this talk that stands out for you? Why?

  • Have you ever encountered poetry that, like the examples she gives, has something interesting to say about politics and democracy? What examples come to mind?

  • How might you answer her key questions: “Whose shoulders do you stand on? What do you stand for?

Through the ages, kings and queens have summoned poets to celebrate their triumphs. Since John F. Kennedy, most incoming Democratic presidents have invited poets to mark their accession to the highest office in the land. While presidents have typically taken a hands-off approach to the poem’s composition, President Kennedy asked Robert Frost specifically to read “The Gift Outright” at his inauguration and suggested a revision to the last line. At the president’s request, Frost changed “Such as she was, such as she would become” to “Such as she was, such as she will become.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama asked Richard Blanco to be his inaugural poet. Mr. Blanco’s occasional poem, “One Today,” describes a country under “one sun” and “one light,” where people toil on “one ground, our ground.” Reminiscent of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing,” the poem celebrates the common work of uncommon individuals.

 

Read Gorman’s full poem below:

“Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world:

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and the time where 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.

And yes, 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 our union with purpose to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else say, this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together victorious. Not because we will never, again, no defeat, but because we will never, again, sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to her own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to Glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare, it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

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.

This is the era of just redemption. We feared in its inception, we did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it we found the power to author a new chapter to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So while once we asked, ‘How could 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.

Our blunders become their burdens, but one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left, with every breath my bronze-pounded chest. We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise through the golden hills of the West. We will rise from the windswept Northeast, where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-run cities of the Midwestern states. Will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.

When day comes we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it, for there was always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

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