Capturing the Heart of a Nation Through Poetry
Art and literature have always played a role in shaping the history of our civilization and culture. So, it’s interesting that the inclusion of poetry at a presidential inauguration has happened only recently.
Only three presidents – John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, and Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 – have had poets read at their inaugurations. These three presidents were known for their appreciation of reading and literature, so it makes perfect sense.
Even in these uncertain times, we have the opportunity to reflect on our history and where we go from here. Each opportunity gives us a moment to voice our hopes and speak truth to power about how our individual values will impact the future.
Our hopes were spoken so eloquently yesterday as Amanda Gorman, 22-year-old Harvard graduate from California, made U.S. history as the youngest person ever chosen to recite a poem for a presidential inauguration.
Amanda captivated the world with her original poem “The Hill We Climb” as it guided us towards unity, healing and perseverance.
She began with “When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” And later ended with “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Giving honor to previous inaugural poet Maya Angelou, Amanda wore a ring with a caged bird – a tribute to the classic memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” – gifted to her by Oprah Winfrey.
Who is this phenomenal young woman?
At 16, Amanda was named Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and her first poetry book, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough,” was released a year later in 2015. In 2017, she became the country’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate.
Graduating from Harvard University in May 2020 with a degree in Sociology, she has read for numerous official engagements. After seeing her perform at the Library of Congress, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden asked her to write a poem.
On the day Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Amanda was about half-way completed with her poem. She was able to use that tragic event as a wave of energy to finish. She referenced the riot in her poem:
“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.”
Amanda already seems so accomplished but she has only just begun. Her children’s book “Change Sings” will release this year in September.