I loved the inherit/repair it rhyme in "The Hill We Climb," and I appreciate (whether or not I share it) the optimistic vision that sees the U.S. not as a "broken" nation, but simply an "unfinished" one. After the inaugural poet's performance, I look forward to reading her poem in the paper tomorrow. Like most occasional poetry, it may have smacked more of occasion than of poetry in spots, but I admired it more than I had anticipated.
How did it strike you?
I was confused by her being introduced as "the first national poet laureate." Did I mishear? Did the introducer misspeak? What I imagine to be the case is that she was appointed "poet laureate" of the inauguration, and that that hasn't been done before.
I think she is considered to be the nation's first youth poet laureate.
The general reaction on social media among the poets I follow has been quite positive. I'm thinking, though, that many people loved it because of the occasion. The glorious end to the Trump Administration even made me think for the first time that Jennifer Lopez is a fine singer. When we come down from our high, I suspect that the poem and Jennifer Lopez won't be as impressive. I think the poem might have worked better if it had been a bit shorter. But I'll reserve final judgment until I read it.
I heard an NPR piece on Ms. Gorman and was looking forward to hearing her. She seemed in that interview and in her poem to be an impressive person. I watched her in the company of my middle school students, who thought she was amazing. Certainly, her poise and delivery were strikingly strong for such a young person (22). The NPR piece suggested one thing that might've drawn Biden to Gorman--besides her status as the nation's first-ever youth PL--was their shared experience of overcoming a speech impediment: Biden's stutter and Gorman's inability to sound the letter R until quite recently.
As to the poem, I like what Chris said about occasional poetry. And Gorman does seem to come mostly from the "spoken-word" corner of our big tent, which may not be my corner. BUT I did appreciate that she was playing with sounds--alliteration, rhyme, etc.--throughout, and I will read the poem eagerly.
Here it is. She nailed it.
Definitely a bit of hiphop/rap-style rhyming, definitely echoes of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Rise Up" from Hamilton.
My first impression is that she's the real deal. And a gifted reader with great presence.
This is a very good day.
Editing back in to share this...
Here’s Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem “The pulse of the Morning” she read at Clinton's inauguration.
Here’s Robert Frost’ at JFK’s 1961 inauguration. His inaugural poem was entitled, “Dedication” but when the time came to read it he couldn’t see it on the paper due to the wind and sun. So instead, he recited by heart another poem: “The Gift”.
Here is the transcript:
The Hill We Climb
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 just-ice
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 a 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 a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes 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 know 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 our 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 at 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
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
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 from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
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
Honestly, while normally I would pooh-pooh an inauguration poem, I was very struck by this one. Sure, there were some trite cliches, but I was impressed by the quality of the wordplay, the way most of the rhymes felt natural ("just is" / "justice" was a treat), and the earnest delivery. A lot of poets might have fallen prey to so-called virtue signalling and pandering...but I buy the sincerity of the words, and certainly appreciate the craftsmanship here. Turns of phrases like "even as we tired we tried" jumped out to me as being both meaningful and clever, which is a combination most poets probably aspire to achieve... I could critique the self-references dotted in, and like Roger says, the poem may lose a bit of its sheen once the euphoria of having a new president sworn in wears off, but ultimately I think the poem works well, and I'm glad to see that tons of high-profile people are talking about it. If nothing else, it shows that good poetry still has value, albeit "occasionally."
There are some inspired phrases and sentences in her poem. A few things, besides what Shaun pointed out, struck me:
There are two sentences that are what is referred to as a chiasmus.
For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.
we - eyes - future/history - eyes - us (i.e., we)
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe ... how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
And here is another rhetorical figure where she repeats the last word of one line to start the next line:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right ...
Not to mention the wonderful alliteration throughout the whole poem. There is also great use of anaphora near the end: We will rise from / we will rise from / We will rebuild etc.
And the form is tighter than it at first may appear. Like the way the beginning image comes back at the end:
Beginning: When day comes we ask ourselves
Ending: When day comes we step out of the shade
Yes -- a great point about Gorman's chiasmuses, Martin, and I couldn't help but notice that Biden also used that device to great effect in his speech when he said "We will lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example."
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