When Joe Biden is inaugurated this week he’ll be the oldest President in our history. It’s an incredible accomplishment that in such a youth oriented society, with our ingrained bias against older people, that Joe Biden has achieved this.
When Joe Biden is inaugurated as the oldest President this week, the poet greeting his inauguration, Amanda Gorman, will in some ways, epitomize how the dream of America, a nation with it’s confident, questioning youth at its core, an America where Biden is already a big part of the past, is the home for dreamers whose dreams cannot be diminished.
Amanda Gorman is, of course, incredible. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the first National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. Amanda was inspired by Malala Yousafzai to become a youth delegate to the United Nations. Amanda’s poetry is audacious, it’s questioning, it’s full of hope. She’s a straight A student, her work is researched to the hilt, to be more effectively cutting as she focuses on oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora (those last 13 words from Wikipedia!).
In 2015 she published her collection The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. In 2016, Amanda founded One Pen One Page, an online platform and creative writing program for student storytellers to change the world. At this point I’m thinking Amanda Gorman already has Beyoncé levels of endurance. And of course for me, when I see what can be done, I wonder what shall we choose to be?
Poetry, speaking to the soul of the nation has now become a traditional feature of every presidential inauguration, it was begun by JFK in 1961, when he invited Robert Frost to read. There was no poet invited to Trump’s inauguration four years ago.
Amanda has a lovely quote in The Accidental Poet, “For me, being able to stand on a stage as a spoken word poet, as someone who overcame a speech impediment, as the descendant of slaves who would have been prosecuted for reading and writing, I think it really symbolizes how, by pursuing a passion and never giving up, you can go as far as your wildest dreams… the arts have never been more important than now.”
Her words are not to scare you, but to prepare you...
Amanda spoke to Harper’s Bazaar for their December 2020 issue, discussing being invited to read at the annual Emily Dickinson birthday party, where she chose to read Dickinson’s Hope is the Thing With Feathers. In respect of this great week, and somehow with every inauguration, hope is renewed. I guess we can print this poem here until we’re asked not to. It might do something for you.
Hope is the Thing With Feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
PS: At the inauguration, Amanda's recited her poem, The Hill We Climb and it ended with these lines;
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.
The poem will be the centrepiece of her collection pubilshed in the spring by Viking.