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Take the Poetry Elevator

Kathy Werner - Columnist
Posted 2/18/21

We seem to be witnessing a new national appreciation for poetry since the marvelous Amanda Gorman has shared her work with us all at the Inauguration and at the Super Bowl.

Ms. Gorman, a graduate …

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Take the Poetry Elevator

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We seem to be witnessing a new national appreciation for poetry since the marvelous Amanda Gorman has shared her work with us all at the Inauguration and at the Super Bowl.

Ms. Gorman, a graduate of Harvard, is also the first National Youth Poet Laureate. She is at once talented, charming, and bold, speaking truth and lifting us up.

Who can argue with the words in her Inauguration poem:

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that it isn't broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and the 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 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.

Ms. Gorman's work challenged Americans to realize the tumultuous times we are now living through and not despair, but recognize the wider sweep of history that has brought us to this place.

She asks us to resolve to move forward with purpose.

Her poem was powerful in the best way—conjuring images that compelled us to look at the “never-ending shade” of our times and yet inspiring us to not lose hope, to strive not for “a union that is perfect” but rather a “union with purpose.”

Ms. Gorman reminded us, once again, of the power of poetry. As Plato said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

I have often celebrated poetry in this space, and the Inauguration poem reminded me again of why poetry is so important.

President John F. Kennedy, in an address at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, less than a month before his untimely death, offered these words:

“When power leads man toward 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 touchstone of our judgment.”

And that, my lovely readers, is why the ascendancy of Amanda Gorman's poetry is so important, promising, and exhilarating.

This is why art matters. It elevates our existence.

In these wearying days of lockdown, reading a poem every day is a tonic for one's soul.

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