American poet Amanda Gorman, whose poem resounded through the inauguration of American president Joe Biden, is a force to be reckoned with. She became the youngest inaugural poet in US history. Her work is unafraid and fiercely political, and in a Ted Talk and performance, she explains why poetry is inherently political, pays homage to her honorary ancestors, and stresses the value of speaking out despite fears. As she says in the Ted Talk, “Poetry has never been the language of barriers. It’s always been the language of bridges.”
She begins her TED Talk by asking two questions that she asks her students in poetry class as well: “Whose shoulders do you stand on, and what do you stand for?” For Gorman, she is the “daughter of black writers who were descended from freedom fighters, who broke their chains and changed the world”. Gorman shares that this is her mantra that she repeats before every poetry performance.
She also shares how, before becoming a speaker and a poet, she was terrified of public speaking because she had a speech impediment wherein she was unable to pronounce certain letters and sounds on stage. But what motivated her to overcome her fear was this: “if I choose not to speak out of fear, then there’s no one that my silence is standing for. And so, I came to realize that I cannot stand standing to the side standing silent; I must find the strength to speak up.”
Gorman then talks about what makes poetry special: “Poetry is interesting because not everyone is going to become a great poet but anyone can be and anyone can enjoy poetry and it’s this openness this accessibility of poetry that makes it the language people poetry has never been the language barriers it’s always been the language of bridges and it’s this connection making that makes poetry yes powerful but also makes it political.”
The young poet also shares how it “irritates me to no end” when a “white man” asks her to write poetry, without making it political because “all art is political”. According to Gorman, “poetry is the decision to create the artistic choice to have a voice and the choice to be heard is the most political art of all. Poets have this phenomenal potential to connect the beliefs of the private individual with the cause of change of the public, the population, the political movement.”