This cover image published by Viking Books shows “Call Us What We Carry”, poems by Amanda Gorman. (Viking Books for Young Readers via AP)
Photo: Associated press
When you pronounce the inaugural US Presidency poem at 22 and instantly become a household name, you might wonder if your moment is over. No such fate befell Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet. In 2021, she became one of the few successful poets in history with the publication of “The Hill We Climb”, published her children’s book “Change Sings” and recited a poem at the Super Bowl. You read correctly. Amanda Gorman is turning the status quo upside down, and she’s just getting started.
While “The Hill We Climb” was a celebration of what is possible with effort, Gorman’s latest work, the collection of poetry “Call Us What We Carry”, looks at what grieves us in the first place. The objects of his gaze are America’s refusal to appropriate and atone for its history, the disturbing changes in our climate and the coronavirus pandemic and its politicization. Gorman’s words read like those of Lady Liberty in a pointed argument with white supremacy or the ultimate public defender trying to free us from captivity: “There is no one way to count who and what mattered most to us in this darkness.
Gorman is great when she draws parallels between the past and our present concerns, such as with lies that have historically become truths, that have become the standing record. (For example, the “Spanish Flu of 1918” is called so not because the epidemic originated in Spain, but because the country did not hide its cases, she explains.) From these results Exasperatingly, she writes in a prose poem: “This discord is so old, it turns us all into fossils, a story that is no longer entirely ours and yet only ours, never understood. She also has the limits inherent in her role as messenger: “Some people will hate our words because they spring from a face like ours. She keeps.
In “The Surveyed,” an intelligent allegory, Gorman compares our desire for security and belonging in this pandemic and nationalist era to the hopes of blacks migrating out of the Jim Crow South. In “The Truth in a Nation” she writes, “What can we call a country that is destroying itself / itself just because it can? Home. (END ITAL) “We hear continual echoes of James Baldwin everywhere:” I love America more than any other country in the world, and for precisely this reason I insist on the right to perpetually criticize it.
But Gorman is not Baldwin or Claudia Rankine (whose influence is evident in Gorman’s profession). It is a Gen Z Angelino who brings the new self-awareness and the frankness of youth to these pages with a prosody as playful as it is severe (“Toucher / Se Meet / To human / Again”). Its syllables are often homonyms (“Absolutely abulic, incessantly exasperated”) and force us to wonder if a word means what we think it means, or if it is playing or if we are just being played. Its enigmas intertwine what reads like a sociological thesis told in free verse. (“All we know so far is we’re so far away / From what we know.”)
By Amanda Gorman
Viking. 240 pages. $ 24.99
Gorman speaks on behalf of a generation that just wants the chance to thrive and thrive, but who were born into the dross heap of failed decisions of generations past. In perhaps her most moving poem, “Alarum”, she writes: “Our loss / colossal and fulfilled / is never lost on us. Love the land / like we failed it. To put it plainly / we wrecked the land / defiled the soil / & stranded the land./Listen. We are the heavy toll / on this planet. / Our future needs us / Alarmed. Man is a myth / in the making. “
How Gorman got so young at a place of such accomplishment is as fascinating as his art itself. She describes herself as a “skinny black girl” who was born with an auditory processing disorder that led to a speech impediment – an unsuccessful start for anyone who wants to make language her profession. But as early as elementary school, Gorman began to learn to grasp, form, and wield words just as a blacksmith brings heat, an anvil, and a hammer to an iron. She described her process in a 2018 interview this way: “I woke up early every day and… wore another writer’s voice like a garment and moved on to the next one, until I had walked through a stack of 10 different books. . I wore ephemeral versions, copying their sentence constructions, verbiage and tones. Then I would go out of them and choose the best characteristics of those styles, until I created a voice that was my own. Is there a clearer illustration of what it takes to go from apprentice to master?
Every now and then, Gorman infuses her English with Latin, perhaps to counter or even scold some white classmates who criticized her in the hallowed halls of Harvard University for not being familiar with the ancient language, as she told the school magazine. Push me and watch me grow, seems to be his point of view. Or even: How dare you. She also argues that pandemic politics has as much to do with race as it does with political persuasion: (“Suddenly it hit us: / Why is it so disturbing for privileged groups to follow / restrictions of place and personality. / To do so means for once to wear the chains that their power / has chained on the rest of us. ”) To those who would criticize such thoughts as the poetics of identity, Gorman has already offered this wise answer : “The staff are political. The fact that you have the luxury, as a white man, to write all your poems about being lost in the woods, that you don’t have to wonder about race and gender, is a political statement in itself.
There is sometimes a neglect unworthy of such a gifted and precise writer, as when she glues the diary of a black soldier in the United States Army serving in 1917 in the midst of war and a flu epidemic and transforms part of his prose in his own verse. Rendered this way, it’s impossible to tell what’s hers and what’s hers, and that blur obscures what would otherwise be a compelling presentation.
But perfection is not required. Her poetry insists that not only her, but a whole country is capable of becoming a place of glory, like the concrete Tupac rose. Its emergence at this very moment is the instantiation of our ability to continue. We will overcome the spiritual, but “We survived ourselves” is what Gorman says. As she looks to the future in these pages, she is like Washington crossing the Delaware. “We have to change / This ending in every way. “
Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of the books “How to Raise an Adult”, “Real American: A Memoir” and “Your Turn: How to Be an Adult”.