Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” stole the show on inauguration day, January 20th, 2021. It was also, of course, a big day for the country, and for President Joe Biden and Vice Pres. Kamala Harris as well.
Gorman is from Los Angeles, graduated cum laude from Harvard in 2020, and is the first appointment to the position of National Youth Poet Laureate.
“My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country,” Gorman said of the piece, which she wrote specifically for the occasion, and intended that it should represent as many Americans as possible. The uplifting, optimistic content of the poem, reflective upon the past and emphasizing hope and reconciliation for the future, and Gorman’s inspired delivery, generated soaring interest in her work, and in poetry itself.
In reciting her inaugural poem, Gorman joins this distinguished handful of poets given the honor:
Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural. Frost recited the poem from memory after he was unable to read the text of the poem he’d written for the inauguration, “Dedication,” because of the sun’s glare upon the snow-covered ground.
Maya Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inaugural.
Miller Williams read “Of History and Hope” at Bill Clinton’s 1997 inaugural.
Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural.
Richard Blanco read “One Today” at Barack Obama’s 2013 inaugural.
When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement. The artists, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.”