'Not Broken But Simply Unfinished': Poet Amanda Gorman Calls For A Better America
Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet from Los Angeles, is following in the footsteps of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou as she takes the stage for President Biden's inauguration.
But she's also taking her cues from orators like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. — people who knew a thing or two about calling for hope and unity in times of despair and division.
Gorman told NPR she dug into the works of those speakers (and Winston Churchill, too) to study up on ways "rhetoric has been used for good." Over the past few weeks she composed a poem that acknowledges the previous president's incitement of violence, but turns toward hope.
"The Hill We Climb" reads, in part:
We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
Gorman, like Biden, had a speech impediment as a child. (Biden had a stutter; Gorman had difficulty pronouncing certain sounds.) She told NPR's Steve Inskeep that her speech impediment was one reason she was drawn to poetry at a young age.
"Having an arena in which I could express my thoughts freely was just so liberating that I fell head over heels, you know, when I was barely a toddler," she said.
For Gorman, a former National Youth Poet Laureate, her struggle to speak provided a connection not only to the incoming president, but to previous inaugural poets, too.
"Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton," she says. "So I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle with a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage in the inauguration."
There have only been a handful of inaugural poets; Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy were the only presidents in the past who chose to have poems read at their inaugurations. You can read all the previous poems here.
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