Sunday, January 30, 2022

Amanda Gorman's Next Step


(I wrote a slightly different version of this last year after watching an interview with Amanda Gorman and Trevor Noah)


What’s next for Amanda Gorman? Where to go after reading her poetry at the Presidential Inauguration and then the Super Bowl?


In order to answer that, we have to understand the territory in which poetry lives. ‘The Hill I Climb’, her inaugural poem, is not the mountain of fame and fortune. It has nothing to do with the number of likes on Facebook or the number of talk show invitations. It’s the one that offers that spectacular view that you can’t see down in the lowlands. The poet makes an uphill effort, feels with a rock-climber’s mind where the next needed word is that will support the weight of the poem. Once at the top, her responsibility and pleasure is to report to others what she sees. To encourage them to ascend and see for themselves. That’s one of poetry’s possibilities and there’s always another mountain out there.


The poet is also a deep-sea diver, descending down into the watery depths of sorrow and grief and then rising up from those waters with a poem that has the power to give someone a hug who cannot be touched (especially in these pandemic times) in their hour of need, a poem that has the physicality of an embrace coiled in the muscle of language. There is no bottom to that sea and no end to those waters.


The poet is also a miner, looking for the glimmer of gold hidden in the folds of the hard rock of our armored human heart and coaxing it out. Or panning for it in the streams of our flowing lives, trying to stratify the merely mundane and separate it from our extraordinary possibility.


What lies ahead for Ms. Gorman? The full measure of a human life with all its complexities, triumphs and tribulations. The challenge to keep climbing the mountains, dive into the seas, excavate the hidden gold and write something lasting and memorable that brings comfort or inspiration to people she will never meet. The hope to stumble upon something that is at once timely and timeless, particular and universal, something that appears to someone as if the poem was written precisely for them, for what they’re going through, what they need to hear, what they wanted to say but couldn’t find the words.


At the same time that the Inauguration and Super Bowl is an extraordinary moment of fame thrust upon her, one that allows her to reach millions more than the 20 people in a poetry reading, that opens doors and gives opportunities for more poems to be shared, there is also a great danger. She could get lost in the glitz and glamour of a rock-star culture, the one that prefers to adore and idolize and grab the coattails of the rich and famous rather than do the work themselves to shine their own light.


Poetry is not a halftime show at the Super Bowl nor a touchdown run with a “look what I did!” end-zone dance. It’s not about how awesome and amazing she is, but how vulnerable and wounded and beautiful we all are and can be. It’s not about entertainment and let’s get on with the show, but about finding the needed words for any occasion that stops business-as-usual in it tracks and brings healing, solace and light.


The deeper question is where are wegoing to go from here? And the best answer is found in bringing poetry into politics on its own terms, bringing beauty and soul and grief and sorrow and vulnerability and human connection to the Senate floor. As with Pablo Neruda in Chile, W.B. Yeats in Ireland and Vaclev Havel in Czechoslavakia, it is time to consider poets for Congress. 


I am happy to nominate Amanda Gorman.

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