March 29, 2021
Image curtesy of: blackenterprise.com
She stands with poise, black skin shining, teeth radiating through parted lips. Her yellow coat hugs tightly around her small body, popping out against the crowd behind her like a perfect exclamation point. She raises her hands and hangs them at the ready, then she opens her mouth and speaks. Amanda Gorman’s performance of her poem , “The Hill We Climb,” on the inauguration day of President Biden was powerful for many reasons. That moment was more than a political victory for Biden or a victory for democracy; it was also a victory for a rarely appreciated craft- poetry.
“… (Gorman’s poem) was really impactful just because it brought more attention to poetry and literary arts, more so than any other type of performance, and since this was on a national or even international scale, I think people have grown to respect poetry and writing and creative writing in general a lot more,” said Atholton senior and Creative Writing Club president, Suhani Khosla.
Throughout American history, Poetry has had relatively important movements and moments of popularity, usually in periods of great social change or activism -from the Transcendentalists in the 1830s, the Harlem renaissance writers in the 1920s and the war and civil rights eras of the 60s and 70s. Today, however, poetry is appreciated by few people. Most see it as a topic reserved only for high school English assignments about old, white men who lived hundreds of years ago, or beloved only by a few. Even in the time periods in the past where popularity did grow, it was only a few who pursued it with success. Poetry has never really been appreciated in mainstream popular culture, and especially not among young people. But this all has begun to change with the loud voice of a small, black girl in a yellow coat on a career-defining day.
And career-defining it was. After inauguration day, sales in Gorman’s children’s book, “The Change We Sing,” and her collection of poems featuring “The Hill We Climb” have skyrocketed, with more than a million copies printed of each book. On a day that was supposed to be focused on a political exchange of power, the poet seemed to take the spotlight in conversations afterwards. Her style of poetry, which resembles many aspects of spoken word poetry or the art of orally performing a poem, is very popular among young poets, and the way she moves her hands to tell a story with her words captivates the audience and demonstrates her unique manner of performance. Interest in her has increased dramatically, with many interviews being done with her and her social media presence expanding greatly. She became so well-known and so highly admired that she was later offered to perform a poem at Superbowl LV, something never done before.
It was that act- an invitation to one the most popular events in the country -among others- which makes Amanda Gorman so groundbreaking for poetry. Her rising fame as a poet has had the effect of bringing poetry to a new level in American culture.
“I think that her poem definitely solidified its (poetry) status in the arts and its importance to society,” said Simi Adineyi, a sophomore at Atholton High School.
Though it’s too early to see the full impact of the inauguration day poem, it is clear to see a rise in the respect the public has for poetry. Whereas people originally saw it with disinterest, the narrative has changed and a slow increase in appreciation for poetry has begun in the general public. In some places, even, it’s become much more popular, with virtual poetry events seeing a major increase in sign-ups and interest from the general public. People who otherwise might have wanted nothing to do with poetry, suddenly have a hunger to seek it out and learn more about it.
Khosla mentioned that before Amanda Gorman, “poetry and poets were never really front and center,” but that since, we’ve been able to witness the movement of poetry to center stage, which she thought was, “really important.”
“When was the last time a poet was so widely known?” Khosla then asked.
Gorman’s poetry also comes at a time of great social change in this country, with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining popularity and people of color demanding to be heard and treated equally. She- a black woman- has amplified the voices of people of color and provided a representation of what they can achieve.
In an interview conducted by former first lady Michelle Obama, Gorman said that “Speaking in public as a Black girl is already daunting enough, just coming onstage with my dark skin and my hair and my race—that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere.”
AHS English teacher Ms. Stackhouse explained that a young, female poet of color like Amanda Gorman is “exactly what we need right now,” and that because of this, she will “breathe life into a national interest in poetry,”
If anything, Amanda Gorman’s popularity and talent has ensured that poetry will live on in American culture. It would not become lost in the haze of public opinion, not forced to hide away and talked about only in English classes. It would continue, evolved into something new, something better, something beautiful.