21 Jan 2021

Amanda Gorman: Inauguration poet calls for 'unity and togetherness'

10:02 am on 21 January 2021

Amanda Gorman has become the youngest poet ever to perform at a presidential inauguration, calling for "unity and togetherness" in her self-penned poem.

Poet Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.

Poet Amanda Gorman read her work 'The Hill We Climb' at the inauguration. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

The 22-year-old delivered her work 'The Hill We Climb' to both the dignitaries present in Washington DC and a watching global audience of billions.

"When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?" her five-minute poem began.

She went on to reference the storming of the Capitol earlier this month.

"We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy," she declared.

"And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated."

In her poem, Gorman described herself as "a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother [who] can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one".

The writer and performer, who became the country's first national youth poet laureate in 2017, followed in the footsteps of such famous names as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

"I really wanted to use my words to be a point of unity and collaboration and togetherness," Gorman told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme before the ceremony.

"I think it's about a new chapter in the United States, about the future, and doing that through the elegance and beauty of words."

She previously told the New York Times she would not "in any way gloss over what we've seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years".

"But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal."

Amanda Gorman pictured with actor Morgan Freeman in 2018, became LA's youth poet laureate at 16.

Amanda Gorman, pictured with actor Morgan Freeman in 2018, became LA's youth poet laureate at 16. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Gorman told the BBC World Service she "screamed and danced her head off" when she found out she had been chosen to read at President Joe Biden's swearing-in ceremony.

She said she felt "excitement, joy, honour and humility" when she was asked to take part, "and also at the same time terror".

And she said she hoped her poem, completed on the day supporters of former President Trump stormed the Capitol, would "speak to the moment" and "do this time justice".

Born in Los Angeles in 1998, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child - an affliction she shares with America's new president.

"It's made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," she said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds [and] be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience."

Gorman became LA's youth poet laureate at 16. Three years later, while studying sociology at Harvard, she became national youth poet laureate.

She published her first book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015 and will publish a picture book, Change Sings, later this year.


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