What’s Poetry Got to Do with It? A Community Reading of Amanda Gorman
By Tina Callender
MCNY Library hosted its first roundtable of the new year and semester on February 9th at 5pm. Our topic: Poetry and politics via the work of Amanda Gorman, who most recently commanded the nation’s attention on January 21st. Many thanks to students and staff who attended.
Tina Callender introduced Amanda Gorman as a budding poet already established in her own right before this moment and pointed out that there have only been five inaugural poets before her. Expert listeners among Gorman’s audience have noted her poem’s tribute to performance poets of color who came before her as well as to Elizabeth Alexander’s and Maya Angelou’s own inaugural words.
With the scene set, we began a spirited reading by attendees of “The Hill We Climb.” With each participant reading a different stanza, we had the opportunity to hear and respond as if hearing for the first time. After the reading, we all agreed at that “The Hill We Climb” resonated differently in our intimate setting.
The close reading in community showed us the poem’s power in new ways. One student, Nicole Davis, talked about how people in listening to the poem are also being creative along with it across the board. She gave the example of her daughter’s dance school, where the instructor, a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, is leading young people in developing a choreography set to Gorman’s inaugural performance.
Talking about poetry and our exposure to this form of writing led to a discussion of how poetry informs and speaks to the political climate of its time. This connection is at the root of Amanda Gorman’s work as we know from her TedTalk, “Using Your Voice Is a Political Choice” and her engagement with history through poetry evidenced in this poetic response to exhibits at the National Museum of African American History “Old Jim Crow Got to Go.”
In the end, we each agreed that poetry has a place in politics, especially at this moment, as it is a method of conveying emotions and points of views that can assist us in understanding and navigating a difficult time.