Friday, 29 January 2021


There have been such seismic events recently that I have found myself taking more interest in politics than usual.

In November there was the election of Joe Biden and the news that Kamala Harris would be his vice president.  In early January I followed with incredulity the appaling events in Washington when a rampaging mob, inspired by the defeated US president, occupied the Capitol building.  Only a fortnight later this was followed by the inauguration of the new president.

Like many people I was impressed by the poet, Amanda Gorman.   What an amazing but daunting commission for a writer - to write a poem which will be heard and read by millions of people.  She has spoken about researching and working on the poem, drafting, revising, editing and throwing a lot of it away in the process.  

I assumed that poetry always had a place in the inauguration ceremony but when I checked I found that there had only been five poets taking part in the ceremonies (of three previous presidents):

Robert Frost (John F Kennedy 1961)
Maya Angelou (Bill Clinton 1993)
Miller Williams (Bill Clinton 1997)
Elizabeth Alexander (Barack Obama 2009)
Richard Bianco (Barack Obama 2013) 

Amanda Gorman's delivery was impressive and her poem was absolutely right for the occasion.  I found myself inwardly cheering her on.  In the poem she describes herself as a representative example 

     We are 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.

The poem is realistic:

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

 Amanda Gorman, a 22 year old Harvard sociology graduate, represents all that is the opposite of that 'force'.  Her rhetoric was inspiring - 'we will rebuild, reconcile and recover'.  The poem reminded me of the trajectory of a traditional sermon, begining with her 'text'

     When day comes we ask ourselves   
     where can we find light in this never-ending shade? 

and building to a challenging climax at the end
     For there is always light,
     If only we're brave enough to see it
     If only we're brave enough to be it.

Like the chapel preachers of old (though these were nearly all men) she had the 'hwyl'!  She was fulfilling a bardic role, something that Welsh poetry has been more comfortable with than English poetry.  Her poem was forward looking, positive, inclusive and completely suited to the occasion.

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