The Inauguration of the 46th President took place on January 20, 2021.
Amanda Gorman, age 22, made headlines as she delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” in front of millions from the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
“Like much of America, I was mesmerized. My feelings caught up in my throat. My breath was stolen. My tears ready to flow,” Andrew Smith, a local poet and Tennessee Tech Senior Instructor of English, said when asked about his reaction when he heard the poem.
Smith explained the different contexts of poems.
“It’s an ‘occasional poem,’ like a poem written for a wedding or a birthday or graduation. These poems are easy to ask for and difficult to deliver, and I can hardly think of a brighter light shown on the art of poetry. Gorman grabbed us and brought us back to Maya Angelou’s poem at the 1993 Bill Clinton inauguration,” Smith said.
“For a reality check, Maya Angelou was in her early 60s when she recited ‘On the Pulse of Morning.’ By contrast, Amanda Gorman is only 22,” Smith added.
“The style called ‘performance poem,’ sometimes called ‘spoken word’ or ‘slam poem,’ is definitely adjacent to, especially in the African-American community, the preacher in the black church or to the hip-hop emcee or even the street-corner soapbox-speaker. Gorman brings the power of the preacher and teacher and rapper and then some. Her use of alliteration, repetition, and internal rhyme, to name a few notable techniques, give the piece a sonic power that grips readers. But we cannot also discount her entire passionate and purposeful presence that day. Her confidence and charisma carried into our hearts,” Smith said.
As Smith referenced Gorman’s age compared to previous poets who have shared this honor, some have commented that she is a voice for young Americans, not only for being the youngest inaugural poet but also for her speech and auditory processing issues. Her performance was an inspiration for many, especially those with speech and auditory issues, as well as their parents.
Gorman struggled with the pronunciation of the letter R and the “sh” sound up until a couple years ago. She overcame the speech impediment by learning Hamilton songs. In her poem “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman mentioned the line referring to Disney’s Moana. The lines stated, “I am the daughter of Black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” The significance of these lines can be seen due to its connection to Hamilton considering both include musical compositions written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
This subtle nod to the piece that helped her overcome her challenges added a personal reference to the obstacles that she has faced in her own climb. While her challenges may not be the same as everyone’s, the message of unity was one that the audience could relate to. To further reinforce the hope that she has for our country, she connected our country’s past with hope for the coming years adding that, “there is always light.”
“Amanda Gorman gave a great gift to poetry and to America with this amazing poem,” Smith said as he summed up his reaction to her words and their effect.