22 year old Los Angeles aspiring poet Amanda Gorman was Joe Biden's choice for inaugural poet. How did she do?
Well, it depends on your filter. We bear in mind that, during the art form's struggle to exist during these last 50 years, the anglophone world has experienced only three poems together: "Praise Song for the Day", "One Today", and now, ironically, "The Hill We Climb". To be sure, Ms. Gorman is no Margaret Ann Griffiths. If you're looking for performance it would be at the midpoint of your local slam, well out of the Winners' Circle but significantly better than the average print world author's reading. Amanda had practiced her delivery but still relied on text at the lectern and on teleprompters. This wasn't a random sampling of her collection. It was written for this auspicious occasion. The fact that Amanda Gorman didn't bother to memorize it speaks volumes.
On the one hand, it didn't work as poetry but, on the other hand, it was infinitely better than the cringeworthy efforts--if that's the right word--of Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco. It did contain a little word play but, all in all, it was unremarkable except for one overused (e.g. "...compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions") technique. At this rate we can hope that by 2040 the caliber of verse will have reached the level of [c]rap lyrics and by 2100 it could pass as a first draft on Gazebo.
When day comes we ask ourselves,
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We braved the belly of the beast
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice.
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We 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.
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
But that doesn’t mean that we are
striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know to put our future first
We must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms
To one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
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.
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit
It’s the past we step into
And how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
Rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter.
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while we once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?,
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain;
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
We will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
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.
Obviously, it needs to be cut down to about 1/8th of its length. In its current form it is rambling, self-absorbed, turgid, cliché-festooned droning with some random rhyming. It was as if Amanda had attended the class on sonics (e.g. alliteration, consonance, assonance) but skipped all of the other lectures (e.g. definition, performance, meter, free verse, rhyme schemes, compression, etc.). It was a vessel for an abbreviated voyage along poetry's surface. Yes, it was Shakespeare compared to her two predecessors but that isn't saying much. It did nothing to revive any long dead interest in poetry, even--if not especially--within Amanda Gorman herself. The sudden fame won't encourage her to learn the rest of the craft.
Mind you, it didn't clear the crowds, as Ms. Alexander's flat prose did in 2008. So there's that.