There is something about poetry that captures in verse what often can’t be said.
The day after the pomp and circumstance of the Jan. 20 inauguration, a small group of young writers gathered on Zoom to dissect and admire the craft behind Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
When day comes we ask ourselves
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
Gorman, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, struck a chord across the nation and among this group of high schoolers from Boston. They are part of a cohort of authors at 826 Boston, a nonprofit youth writing and publishing organization. Their instructor Asiyah Herrera prompted them to consider the weight behind the words.
"I want you to keep these questions in mind," said Herrera. "What do you notice? How might the audience impact the message of this poem? How might the moment frame it? What stands out to you? Why might poets be tapped to read or speak at presidential inaugurations?"
In Gorman, they saw a peer brave enough to speak steadily and confront the country at such a pivotal time. Somehow, she managed to find the words when so many could not. Their session just started meeting in December, part of a program that pays them for producing a body of work with the ultimate goal of creating a book and a podcast. Gorman wrote the forward for this book, which is expected to come out in April.
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.
Gorman's poem answered a question for high schooler Zariah Eisner: how do we move forward from here? The poem captured a sense of progression and growth, and this spoke to something deep inside her after a year of racial reckoning and loss.
“[Gorman] sees a chance for things to change, for us to be able to, I guess, finish in a way and make it better," Eisner said. "And I just really respected that."
There’s also something sobering about the fact that a few weeks before, Confederate flags waved inside the Capitol during an insurrection, a moment that pushed Gorman to change her poem and speak on those same steps about the legacy of her ancestors.
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.
Oriana Dunker, another member of the group, found it beautiful how Gorman tied together this country’s past to its future.
“Society in general does not really accept — or even within my own community — we don't want us as Black people to be to associate ourselves with slavery. And our ancestors were enslaved," Dunker said. "But I feel like a key part of her whole poem was that element of just acknowledging our history, because, you know, that's true. Everything she said was true. We are descendants from people who were enslaved in our nation and we can't just forget about that because that's not how we move forward towards justice.”
The goal of this session is to produce works, poems, to inspire creativity. The writers praised Gorman’s use of alliteration. They saw her build up others with her words. As Bless Adedeji reflected on the poem and the country, it brought to mind an ocean.
“We're all living in America, but I feel like we all experience different things...like my experience is not going to be the same experience as someone who might be more privileged or less privileged or on the poverty spectrum,"Adedeji said. "I do have this idea that like an ocean can both drown you and carry you, so I kind of compared America to an ocean.”
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.
At the start of a fledgling year, to see someone so young on a national stage moved them, to see her reflecting on past pain, while using her talent to create something beautiful.
This segment aired on January 26, 2021.