Since I started this blog in 2006, I have posted about two inaugural poems: those recited at both of President Obama's inaugurations. Here, in 2009, I wrote about Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day" and here I reflected more on Elizabeth Alexander and wrote my own poem that was sort of connected to the inauguration. And then here I shared Richard Blanco's "One Today." I didn't post about the 2016 inauguration because there wasn't any poetry performed there. In fact, the only presidents who have ever included poetry in their inaugurations have been Democrats: JFK, Clinton twice, Obama twice, and now Biden. Why don't Republicans do this? I don't know. Here's an article from poets.org about all the inaugural poems in history.
I'm positive that I won't be the only one to write about Amanda Gorman's poem today. It was, simply put, amazing. In a day of much to appreciate, Gorman stood out. First of all, she was decades younger than anyone else who spoke at the inauguration itself. Secondly, she wore an arresting yellow coat and red headband. And thirdly, her poem gave me goosebumps, even after I had heard it probably eight times.
I decided I must share this poem with my students, and I did that on Thursday. My students don't live in the United States but most of them have been there; some were born there. All are affected by what happens there. Of course, people around the world are affected by US events, but perhaps Haiti is more influenced than some places, for reasons that have to do with history and culture and that I won't go into right now.
I passed out a transcript of Gorman's presentation (which I found here) and asked the students to underline or highlight lines that they particularly appreciated. ("Or," I added because I didn't start teaching middle school yesterday, "maybe you will hate some lines, and if so, underline those.") It was so fun to watch some students highlight almost the whole poem (for love, not hate) as they listened. My very favorite moment was hearing an eighth grader say, as the video was just beginning, "Wait, she's Black?" YES my dear, she is Black! There is so much power in kids seeing people who look like them up in front of everyone being wonderful. After we watched the video, we shared the lines we had liked, and nobody at all said anything about disliking any of it.
But Amanda Gorman wasn't the only person who used poetic words. I loved hearing Joe Biden talk about his heart: "Hear us out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart." But it was even better to hear him talk about his soul. My favorite line from his speech was when he talked about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and saying that if his name went down in history at all, it would be for that document. Lincoln added, "My whole soul is in it." And, said Biden, "My whole soul is in it today, on this January day. My whole soul is in this, bringing American together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face -- anger, resentment and hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness."
Friends, I know he has his work cut out for him. I know the words spoken on Inauguration Day are often poetic, but that the work is full-on prose. But oh, wasn't it wonderful to hear the words, anyway?
Because I can't resist, here are a couple more links. Here's Anderson Cooper interviewing Amanda Gorman (and telling her she's awesome). Here's a transcript of President Biden's speech.
And here are a few of my favorite lines from Gorman's poem:
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
a nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
We are striving...
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it's the past we step into
and how we repair it
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
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