Words by Robyn Cowie
Like millions around the world, who tuned in to watch the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden be inaugurated on 20th of January, I was confident in my knowledge of what would happen. Lady Gaga would give an outstanding rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, Jennifer Lopez bringing her killer attitude and swagger whilst modernising ‘This Land Is Your Land’, we would see previous Presidents of a bygone age and look back with a warm sense of nostalgia. Newly elected President Joe Biden would offer a unifying message of getting America back on course, dealing with leading issues of inequality, injustice and also trying to gain control over the pandemic, all whilst showing to the world that the United States if America wanted to return to the world stage. And yet, the stand out moment was the powerful words of Amanda Goreman with her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’. Goreman’s poem was like a universal sermon for what a modern, diverse nation can and should be.
Amanda Goreman is a poet, activist and author, who has recently been named the first Youth Poet Laureate and has with her most recent performance at the inauguration, reminded people all around the world the power of this art form, spoken word, one which is often forgotten or deemed to only be influential when coming from a very select, historic and quite frankly old fashioned format of expression. However, Goreman has in fact made poetry have a revival and if anything modernises this use of prose into format which has the power to raise awareness to issues, unite the masses and importantly to spread the message of hope.
“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.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.”
‘The Hill We Climb’ is a poem created in order to heal a world which is reeling for many different reasons to cause us all to feel lost. Not two weeks before Goreman was standing on a platform at the Capitol in Washington D.C., the very same place where insurrection had been attempted in an effort to prevent democracy from taking place, she used her words to encapsulate all which the world was feeling when witnessing that event. The poem is a call to action, for us to remember past events good and bad, to acknowledge them and to learn from them, all so that our future can be brighter. One in which we have learnt from past mistakes, recognise that all of us are humans worthy of inclusion, individuality and representation. That we offer a voice to those who are voiceless. Goreman managed to capture a mood which has been casting shade over the world, and with her poised wit and sunshine smile, offer faith and optimism when we are still all reeling in a dark place.
“In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
I therefore encourage that we continue this revival of poetry in as many formats as possible. Whether this is by rediscovering the classic poets of the past, such as; Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson, Syliva Plath, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Robert Burns, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Christina Rossetti or Walt Whitman. Or if you wish to continue discoring the prose of African-American poets such as Maya Angelous, Langston Hughes, Gwendoyln Brooks, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine or Toni Morrison.
However, poetry comes in many forms, whether it is put to music with Hip-Hop, with lyrics which are able to encapsulate many different, relevant and modern experiences with compositions from the likes of; Lauryn Hill, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, Queen Latifah, to the more modern melodic lyrics of the likes of Loyle Carner and Dave. To deeply instagrammable poets of Rupi Kaur, Nikita Gill or Charly Cox. Maybe even try to look back on your old GCSE English poetry texts, with the likes of Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage.
What I am trying to say is that; stanzas, rhyming couples, metre, symbolism, repetition and alliteration can transform our everyday words, feelings, actions and experiences into something remarkable. And Amanda Goreman with her five minute performance did just that, she was able to capture the mood of both America but also of the world and offer all of us positivity and light, with her words and her wit. Reminding us all the impact which poetry can offer.