The 23-year-old poet and activist is making history.
It’s not a popular business, poetry. You don’t scroll past articles concerning poetry like you do some pointless story about a Kardashian, or flick over a poetry reading searching for something to watch on TV, having come across it by chance in a sea of content. Algorithms don’t thrust the genre to the trending page on Youtube, Twitter is not left imploding over stanzas, and Tiktok is not flooded with their lines. Memes are not made from it nor by it, not the same way other media perpetuates engagement with it, with constant influence and presence in an age of instant communication and an abundance of information to consume or to ignore. Rather than being something which bleeds into the greater swarth of the modern culture, something to by happenstance cross paths with, poetry is confined to its immediate circle - it must be sought out.
Poets were celebrities of a sort once - we still talk about Shakespeare today, with most everybody who has studied the English language knowing the name - and while there exists poets, and exists poetry, there is not a parallel to be had that resembles the modern celebrity, the content creator, the influencer.
Yet people like Amanda Gorman, America’s first Youth Poet Laureate, prove the art is alive and well. In February of this year, she read as part of the opening of the Superbowl, presenting her poem Chorus of the Captains, becoming the first poet ever to perform in conjunction with Superbowl. She has composed poetry aimed at children, writing works such as Change Sings, a lyrical picture book with its core message being the empowerment of all children to make the changes in the world we are all capable of bringing about; an encouragement of activism in a world in ever-increasing need of it. Furthermore, Gorman was in attendance of the recent Met Gala, wearing a laureate crown in reference to the poetic traditions of ancient Greece, and bringing poetry with her into a space of artistic notoriety and wealth which the literary form has not seen the like of in America for decades, centuries.
Perhaps even more notable than these instances, Gorman read at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, orating her work The Hill We Climb. The significance of this piece in relation to the challenges which beset American society today demonstrate implicitly why Amanda Gorman is seen, why her work is seen, despite the antiquated monolith the form is considered to embody; presenting an uplifting message of hope following years of racial injustice, amplifying the Black Lives Matter protests, and the beginnings of a pandemic we are still immersed in, still suffering from every day. Yet in the face of such adversities, Gorman implores her readers to take the action they can, to take direction towards what light is to be found at the end of the tunnel, what meadow might be had the other side of a bleak, mired wood. It is on such a note she ends, in a rallying cry for a future not yet lost to us, a push towards a future better than the present many are drowning in:
“We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover in 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.”
Hardly content with only stating action must be taken, Gorman likewise embodies her words, her message, having stated in previous interviews her intention to run for presidency in 2036, when she is of the minimum age the position demands. She is at the forefront of change, seeking, in the words of The Hill We Climb, to “...leave behind a country / better than the one we were left with”, and bringing poetry forward with her as a battle standard.
In all these instances, she was not simply present at cultural behemoths of events, but she and her poetry played an active role in defying the obscurity of what is considered a daunting and archaic artform, one which has had its barrier of entry for women of color thwarted in recent decades; and despite such hindrances has managed to not simply be a part of the conversation - but part of its integral core. She had made her poetry seen, heard, giving it to an audience - and in particular, an audience comprised of a massive following of Gen-Z - which has met her works with adoration, a consideration of relevance in a society where poetry has for the most part been pushed to the fringes. Her words have captured the young modern audience, found presence and purpose in the modern culture, and has in paradoxical fashion exemplified modern values and conflicts with a mode of writing thought to be a distant, scholarly object of the past.