Gorman became the youngest poet in memory to read at an Inauguration Day ceremony

By Sean Neumann
January 20, 2021 03:21 PM
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On a day American democracy was celebrated with a transfer of power between presidents, the country's leading youth poet poignantly reminded the nation — and its new president — of work to be done.

In a work titled "The Hill We Climb," which she wrote for Wednesday's inauguration of President Joe Biden in keeping the traditions of past inaugural poets, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman spoke of the pain and possibility of becoming something else, something better.

"Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew: That even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried, that we'll forever be tied together, victorious," she read in a rhythmic lilt as her hands performed a delicate ballet accentuating her words.

"Not because we will never again know defeat," she went on, "but because we will never again sow division.

"We've learned that quiet isn't always peace and the norms and notions of what just is isn't always justice," Gorman read. "And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it."

Poet Amanda Gorman reads "The Hill We Climb," which she wrote for Joe Biden's inauguration, on Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

Gorman is the national youth poet laureate and the youngest poet in memory to read at an inaugural ceremony, as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in as the country's next leaders.

The already-accomplished Harvard University grad spoke for about five minutes to commemorate the president and vice president taking their oaths of office. In her reading, Gorman touched on unity and hope, two themes Biden's inaugural team asked the young poet to focus on.

But, in the wake of this month's deadly pro-Donald Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol building, Gorman made it a point also to recognize the divisions still to heal.

Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden
| Credit: Rob Carr/Getty

"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished," she read. "We the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president — only to find herself reciting for one. And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn't mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose."

The rioting at the Capitol this month left five people dead and the country shaken, amid a tumultuous transfer of leadership while Trump stubbornly refused to acknowledge he lost and instead claimed the election was rigged.

The failed insurrection by Trump supporters on Jan. 6 — while Congress met to certify Biden's win, and which temporarily forced the House and Senate lawmakers into hiding — had inspired Gorman to finish her inaugural poem, the poet told The Associated Press this month.

Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden
| Credit: Rob Carr/Getty

The riot delayed, but did not stop, Congress from confirming Biden and Harris as the 2020 election winners. It did, however, reshape the circumstance under which the Biden and Harris administration begins.

The White House is now challenged with getting control of the novel coronavirus pandemic and, as Biden has long argued, tempering the national divisiveness that festered during Trump's tenure.

"The poem isn't blind," Gorman earlier told the AP, adding, "It isn't turning your back to the evidence of discord and division."

Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman prepares to speak at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Gorman was named the country's first national youth poet laureate in 2017 and was handpicked by incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to speak during Wednesday's ceremonies, the poet has said.

Prior to Biden's invitation to Gorman, only three presidents had poetry read at their inaugural ceremonies, according to the Academy of American Poets: President John F. Kennedy in 1961, President Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, and President Barack Obama 2009 and 2013.

Gorman joins a small list of revered American poets to read during the inaugural, including Maya Angelou and Robert Frost.

Angelou's 1993 poem "On the Pulse of Morning," read at Clinton's first inauguration, went on to sell 1 million copies, according to the AP.