February 5, 2021 10:28:25 am
When 22-year-old Amanda Gorman recited her poem, The Hill We Climb, at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ inauguration on January 20, she placed herself on the literary map forever. Every detail of her poem and even her appearance was dissected and lauded. Now, the young poet is on the cover of Time magazine interviewed by former First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama.
In the course of the conversation, Gorman spoke about her literary inspirations as well as her preparation for the historic inauguration day. When asked ways we can make poetry accessible for the younger audience, she said. “Poetry is already cool. Where we run into trouble is often we are looking through such a tight pinhole of what poems can be,” she said. She continued further dismantling the reputation of the genre which is tied to its perception.
“Specifically we’re looking at dead white men. Those are the poems that are taught in school and referred to as classics. We really need to break out of the pathology that poetry is only owned by certain elites. Where we can start is highlighting and celebrating poets who reflect humanity in all of its diverse colours and breadth.”
Her list of inspirations runs long. “I love Black poets. I love that as a Black girl, I get to participate in that legacy,” she said at the outset. She then recounted others who contributed to her understanding of the craft. “So that’s Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez, Tracy K Smith, Phillis Wheatley.” She also revealed that she looks at artists who are not poets for inspiration. “I was reading a lot of Frederick Douglass, a lot of Winston Churchill, a lot of Abraham Lincoln.”
The interview also touched upon ways she inspires and motivates herself. When asked what is the mantra she tells herself to remain focussed, the young poet shared: “This mantra I’m about to say is actually in part inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s lyrics in Moana, “Song of the Ancestors.” Whenever I listen to songs, I rewrite them in my head. That song goes: “I’m the daughter of the village chief. We’re descended from voyagers who made the way across the world.” Something like that. Sorry Lin. I really wanted something that I could repeat because I get so terrified whenever I perform. So my mantra is: “I’m the daughter of Black writers who are descended from Freedom Fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” I say that to remind myself of ancestors that are all around me whenever I’m performing.”
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