Credit: GG Illustrator Emma Garcia-Melchor (@emmitagm)

Thoughts on The Hill We Climb

By Sean Walker

Gorman’s poem is an inspiring call to be the light the world needs.

As the 2021 Presidential Inauguration was due to commence at the Capitol Building, the digital format could not subdue the palpability of a despairing hangover from an insurrection that had occurred just two weeks earlier. This inauguration was a crucial moment to start pulling together a nation that had been submerged under a tide of division. Audiences across the US could see the light but needed a helping hand to find the surface. Little did we know that Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, would capture the attention of the world with her perfect performance to rescue America from anguish.

Poetry is often used after a time of tragedy to convey the plethora of feelings that are present. Eulogies frequently adopt poetic phrases for their ability to articulate the emotions of those affected. The words of a poet connect with one another to solve a puzzle of sadness with the remedy of rhythm. Amanda Gorman stepped up to the podium on 20 January in front of a grieving nation and attempted to provide unity with the cathartic power of her poem, The Hill We Climb.

Like a sculptor etching the surface of stone, each word of the poem reads as though it was irreversibly chosen knowing its inevitable place in history. Each stanza is meticulously written to meet the moment and speaks to the sentiment of ubiquitous struggle that America faces. The recent publication of Gorman’s book, titled the same as her inaugural poem, will appear in a variety of languages. While her poem may certainly reflect America, it also translates to those across the globe in more ways than one.

Gorman’s performance is scattered with homages to those who have inspired her towards overnight stardom. In interviews following her performance, Gorman credited Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, as a source of inspiration. Aaron Sorkin once wrote: “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.” This certainly manifests in Gorman’s use of the scripture, “everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid”, which identically features in the Hamilton hit, One Last Time

Gorman also tipped her hat in the direction of a fellow inaugural poet. The ring on her right hand of a caged bird represented Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Despite these tributes to other creatives, Gorman’s poem should not be mistaken as anything other than her own experience. It is the world through her eyes and it is authentically her story. Rather, we can see this poem as the first draft of history. To write such a piece is a tall test for anyone, so standing on the shoulders of those before her makes it a little more clear to see.

A beautiful ring was not the most attention-grabbing element of Gorman’s hands. The spellbinding nature in which she utilised them throughout her performance captivated audiences. She caressed the air as if to touch both our hearts and minds in delicate and decisive movements. Gorman developed this dexterity as a result of a speech impediment that restricted her ability to pronounce all letters. To capture the attention of those around her, she needed to use every asset she possessed, but as her speech improved, these actions remained and conveyed an impression of power and poise.

At the eclipse of an administration that prioritised a narrative of disinformation and fear, Gorman emerged as a beacon of light. All art is political and poetry is no different. She shone her light on the possibilities that lie before a nation with a lost voice, but that now stands celebrating its diversity for the world to see.For most, becoming the youngest inaugural poet in US history would be the tip of the iceberg and an insurmountable achievement. However, with aspirations of running for President in 2036, I don’t think this will be the last we see of Gorman, and frankly, I couldn’t be more excited to witness her continue to make her mark on the world. Swimming in the depths of despair in the aftermath of an attack on democracy, we could see the light, but couldn’t find the surface. Amanda Gorman taught us that there is light “if only we’re brave enough to be it”.


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