Amanda Gorman makes history as youngest known inaugural poet
Amanda Gorman has written poems for historic occasions. Now she has made history herself.
Gorman, 22, became the youngest known inaugural poet when she performed at the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday.
She delivered her original composition, “The Hill We Climb,” at the Capitol in front of President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the entire nation.
“It’s amazing…Especially at my age. No one really gets to say, ‘At 22, I am the inaugural poet,'” she told “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason before her performance.
She said she researched the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as she began writing. But it was the riots at the Capitol that made a closing impact.
“And then on the Wednesday in which we saw the insurrection at the Capitol, that was the day that the poem really came to life. And I really put pedal to the metal,” Gorman said.
Gorman said the riots changed her poem and the message she wanted to deliver.
“I wanted it to be a message of hope and unity. And I think that Wednesday for me really just underscored how much that was needed,” she said. “But to not turn a blind eye to the cracks that really need to be filled.”
Gorman was named the nation’s First Youth Poet Laureate at the age of 19. At 16, she was Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, where she was raised by Joan, a single mother and an English teacher. Gorman said writing became her way to overcome a daunting obstacle.
“I had a speech impediment. And so I couldn’t use my voice, then I would author my voice on the page. So it’s really been a godsend and a lifeline for me,” she said.
Gorman said poetry and spoken words became her own type of pathology.
“And so once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me. I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment,” she said.
Gorman, who had particular trouble with the letter “R,” used music as therapy.
“My favorite thing to practice was the song Aaron Burr, Sir, from “Hamilton” because it is jam-packed with R’s. And I said, ‘if I can keep up with Leslie in this track, then I am on my way to being able to say this R in a poem,'” she said
When Mason asked what she felt when she was performing poems, Gorman replied: “When I am on stage, I feel electric. I feel like I could breathe fire…like I am summoning the energy not only of myself but of my ancestors.”
“Poetry is a weapon. It is an instrument of social change…and poetry is one of the most political arts out there because it demands that you rupture and destabilize the language in which you’re working with,” she continued. “Inherently, you are pushing against the status quo. And so for me, it’s always existed in that tradition of truth-telling.”
On Inauguration Day, Gorman did her truth-telling on the steps of the United States Capitol. She told Mason that she prepared for the big moment the way she would prepare for any other performance.
“One of the preparations that I do always whenever I perform is I say a mantra to myself, which is ‘I’m the daughter of black writers. We’re descended from freedom fighters who broke through chains and changed the world. They call me.’ And that is the way in which I prepare myself for the duty that needs to get done.”
“Do you say that inside your head, or do you say it aloud?” Mason asked.
“If I can, and I’m not going to scare anybody off, I always say it out loud. So I’m usually in a bathroom or a dressing room,” she said. “But if backstage and I imagine if I’m standing next to Joe Biden, I might keep it here [points at herself] not to worry about craziness. I don’t want Secret Service to think, you know, Amanda is gone…mayday, mayday, yeah no.”
Gorman said she battled her speech impediment all the way into college. She graduated from Harvard University in 2020.
Gorman, who has performed five commissioned poems on “CBS This Morning,” has a children’s book that is scheduled to be released in September titled “Change Sings.” The poet said she has a long-term plan of running for president in 2036.
Source: © 2021 CBS Interactive Inc.
The Hill We Climb
by Amanda Gorman
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.
Source: Town and Country