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Poet Amanda Gorman On Activism And Art In Times Of Darkness

Amanda Gorman '20, the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, is pictured in Harvard Yard at Harvard University. (Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer)
Amanda Gorman '20, the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, is pictured in Harvard Yard at Harvard University. (Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer)

Editor’s Note: This segment was rebroadcast on Jan. 18, 2021. Listen to the audio here.

In the midst of the pandemic and calls for racial justice, many artists are using their energies to help advocate for transformative change.

Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, is among them. The 22-year-old graduated from Harvard earlier this year and is using her talent to offer words of hope and understanding.

Here & Now‘s Tonya Mosley speaks with Gorman about poetry as a tool for activism.

Notes on the State

An Erasure Poem of Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia”

By Amanda Gorman

Notes on the state

I find

uttered a


the level of


; never

painting or sculpture.

Music gifted.


have been found capable

of imagining.

Whether they will be

the composition

of a more extensive


complicated harmony,

is yet to be proved.

Misery is often.

poetry is misery enough

God knows poetry.

Love is peculiar

of the poet. ardent,

but it

kindles only

the imagination.

Religion indeed;

a Phyllis

could produce


under her name

the dignity of

What Words Begin

By Amanda Gorman The word ‘race’ first arose In the English language in 1508. Of course, It appeared where all words are born: a poem. when A Scottish writer Spoke of a long line of kings, And the dancing deadly sin of envy. So what is a poem, if not a beginning? An announcement that heralds itself? Moments of air molded like melted wax.

I always thought language was Akin to the body, Padlocked oh so delicately to a pulse. It tells you in the beginning was the word. This was before 1619, before Trayvon, before Till, Before Malcolm and Martin and Michael went still. Before the echo that is breath’s Pilgrimage to the start of the sound. Before the inception of a new poem, When I am bent and gasping, Stripped skinny, thatched thin, A wild note waiting to be sung. I am braced against beginnings I cannot name, my breath wheezing So hard as to stain the haze of night. My teeth are bared, My tongue a rare thing, flared and forked. I’m the damsel. The dragon. The dork. A furious flower– I dare you: bury me, wilting, under your feet. For what is stepped on cannot be stepped over. So I’m still not sure if words Are something the page pulls from me, Or the page pulls me from. All the same, I am parcel to a we That is enviously gibbous, glamorous. Letters clamorous in the damp dip of the tongue. Think: if sorrow made slaves sing, Bronze faces polished with light, Might we write a hymn That fills the mouth tight with wind. Maybe we can dream of lettering a lyric Loud enough to crack the lung. I want to speak a blackness that Is something to celebrate And something to shovel; The soil from which all of us start. Buried deep down within me, Under the skin, like a secret skeleton. The shell that keeps us standing. Let our verses grab the globe by the ear, Like a black grandma tugging a toddler straight. Let us arrive on the backs of words That give air its meanings, So that the next time historians speak of race, A long line of kings, They’ll see us, our crescent smiles naked and nascent, Shining so bright they make others black with envy. We tell the kingdom we are deadly, And dancing, too. The heralds announce that Our race has just arisen From the flowerbeds where our seeds have always been. We grin, Recognizing our reign isn’t words, But the world words begin.

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