How about that Amanda Gorman, yeah?

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

I just … I just … Well, OK, that right there is why I really hate trying to write about poetry. Because while this amazing young poet delivered her work, “The Hill We Climb” with grace, poise and conviction – from the steps of the Capitol and in front of the entire world, no less – every time I try to describe it, I wind up stammering and just shaking my head in dumbstruck wonder.


Gorman’s poem was profound. Beautifully phrased, balanced and structured, with vivid imagery and a sweeping invitation to hope that brings a lump to your throat. Or at least it did to mine. In fact, listening to Gorman deliver her poem, that was the moment I felt my shoulders unclench and inspiration fill my lungs.

Gorman has been named our nation’s first youth poet laureate. Rightly so.

Laureate, a term that Merriam-Webster claims dates back in this use to the year 1529, is one of acclaim, of praise. “To crown with laurels” is the association. I love that we have poet laureates, that our nation honors individuals for their contributions to society through the use of poetry.

On the one hand, it seems so “not us.” You know? We have this weird idea of ourselves as plain-speaking, plain-dealing folk. If you were to ask me if I like poetry, I might hem and haw because it really depends. Sentimental poems, or their opposite twin, the shock poem, engender resentment in me for their blunt attack upon my emotions.

My mom raised us with a constant flow of short and snippy works from Ogden Nash (most of which I can still recite from memory), likewise Shel Silverstein and his amusing rhymes, but it wasn’t until I encountered Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard” that I found poetry that made me stop, blink and connect. I never understood that poetry could be not only entertaining but revealing.

In truth, when we are at our very best, we are a nation of poets.

It is perhaps surprising then, that there have only been three presidents before this one who invited poetry at their inaugurations.

President Barack Obama, at his first inauguration, invited Elizabeth Alexander to recite her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” at his second inauguration, Richard Blanco (who lives in Maine!) read his work, “One Today.”

President Bill Clinton likewise invited poets. At his second inauguration Miller Williams read his work “Of History and Hope” and at his first, the late, great Maya Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning.”

Before that, you have to go back to 1961, when John F. Kennedy invited Robert Frost to read his poem “The Gift Outright.”

What does it say about the leaders who chose poets? What does it say about a nation that pauses at a momentous transition of power to honor the glorious flight and dance of words?

I like to think it is a really good sign.

I like to think it means we are embarking as a nation upon a journey of curiosity, of exploration, of thought and discourse and literature, with an awareness of, and mindfulness towards, how history will view our actions. I like to think we are granting ourselves the chance to dream of who we want to be.

When the poem is as unflinching in its hard truths, and yet as full of hope and grace as Amanda Gorman’s, the future looks kind.

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