3 Poetry Lessons from Amanda and Angelou

Lesson #1: Study

Amanda Gorman, 22, became the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles at sixteen years old in 2014 and the first national youth poet laureate three years later. On Wednesday, she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration, following Maya Angelou and Robert Frost’s considerably more experienced footsteps. (Los Angeles Times)

Random fun fact: Amanda is a twin!

In her CNN interview with Anderson, Gorman spoke about the power of words and all the research that went into her poem, such as reviewing texts from poets of previous inaugurations and studying other orators like Frederick Douglass.

“I did a lot of research ever since I found out I was going to be the inaugural poet in late December. Really doing a deep literature dive of other orators.”

I highlight this because research is not a word we hear often associated with poetry, but the best poets do it. It is not only about stringing some rhymes together. The best poets are avid researchers, readers, and students.

While writing “The Hill We Climb,” the poet listened to music that helped put her “in a historic and epic mind-set,” including soundtracks from “The Crown,” “Lincoln,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Hamilton.”

“I wasn’t trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know,” said Gorman of the events of January 6th. “America is messy. And I have to recognize that in the poem. I can’t ignore that or erase it.”

I think we can all agree that Maya Angelou had talent, but Angelou also studied the art. In her muteness, she listened to how people spoke, the inflection of their voices, the way their arms and hands moved. She listened to the black ministers and the melody of the preachers, musicians, and performers. She read books of all kinds, traveled to different countries, and learned other languages.

What is the lesson here?

Good poetry is a good study. It is more than the rhyme of a creative mind, but how that creativity can take elements of real life, history, and experience and weave it together with language that is so fluid and precise that it enters the heart and goes right down to the soul.

Lesson #2: When You Are Not Writing/Speaking, Read

In the five years, Angelou was mute, she read every book in the black school library and every book she could get from the white school library. She memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawerence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. She memorized Shakespear, whole plays, and fifty sonnets. Angelou memorized Edgar Allen Poe and all the poetry.

When Angelou decided to speak, she had a lot to say and many ways to say it.

Gorman is also a reader.

“When she’s not watching cooking shows, Gorman copes with isolation by reading books to prepare her for that future. She picked up former President Obama’s “A Promised Land” the day it came out. She’s also reading Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History,” which interrogates long-standing historical narratives from the Haitian Revolution to the Alamo.”

Lesson #3: Learning from Others

I am not going to say that I agree with every lyric of Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the delivery, the poetic techniques used, the alliteration, and the metaphoric skill. I have listened to other poems of Amanda’s, and I love the sound of her voice and the movement of her hands at pivotal points. It is not overly dramatic but poised and elegant.

At the Roar, Grand Slam Gorman said, “The air smelled of Hollywood and desperation.” Gorman’s enunciation of words and clarity of speech speaks to her comprehension of the information. Rather from her speech impediment or the love of poetry, you can tell that Gorman has studied language, and it comes through beautifully in her speech.

Maya Angelou has one of the most powerful voices I had ever heard. We are so blessed that she did not stay silent! What I noticed about Angelou was how she did not limit her reading. Maya embraced different voices and cultures, and I believe this nurtured her perspective so that it stretched wide, and from her poetry, you can hear the wisdom of understanding shine through.

Lesson number three is perhaps the most important one of all.

You do not have to agree with everything someone says or does to learn from them. Remember that Yah spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey. (Numb. 22:28)

Lol. These bitmojis are just funny to me

“I am the daughter of black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”

– Amanda Gorman

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Mariah Carey Hero

I have a song for you this afternoon as my contribution to Writer’s Quote Wednesday. This song is so beautiful that I thought I’d switch up my usual quotes with it. The verses that hit home for me this week were:

“So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you…”

Mariah Carey – Hero

And no I am not feeling hopeless lol. I just like the song and I hope it is uplifting to your week as it has been to mine.

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And that’s it for me this week. Yall be great.

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Today’s Rap Music

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Today’s rap music (actually today’s music in general) is nothing short of sad. You used to rewind the lyrics of Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest etc., because you actually learned something. But now you have to rewind lyrics to convince yourself you really did hear what you wish you didn’t. Take Iggy Azalea for example, who ain’t seen one inch of anybody’s hood. She does not talk like that in real life people, is obviously racists and a mockery toward black people, but yall are all over her. Are we so blind?

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I remember being about eleven years old and joking with my cousins. One of the silliest said they can make a song of anything, that they could make a song about water. And as they hummed their made-up lyrics we laughed about it, our innocence sparing no expense on the buffoonery of our cousin’s song. But today it is no longer funny. It is no longer funny because our joke has made manifest itself in the ears of our children. Our jokes have exalted itself over the years and have actually made it inside the rooms of record companies where young men and women do away with logic because it does not pay the bills; where they do away with the positive influence of having achieved something of value, of substance. A place where the Lil Wayne’s do not talk about their college degrees and the Rick Ross’s do not boast of their life as Criminal Justice officers because this does not pay in money and in power like half dressed women and drugs and diamonds bigger than your head. So, somewhere between Young Thug, K Camp and World Star Hip Hop our children are left with garbage. A hodgepodge of people who never grew up in the hood but the hood is all they rap about. But someone’s son is struggling to eat because his mother is addicted to the same crack he pledges to distribute as soon as his voice is deep enough. Can you blame him? After all, it’s fast, it’s easy, and it is all his role model talks about. A woman’s son, who probably seen more drugs and guns in his six years of life than any of his favorite 106 N Park Rap stars.But this is the music he listens to.

I just hope poetry don’t get this bad, where yall start trading your virginity for a tight lyric and hot beat. Metaphors and similes come a dime a dozen so don’t get caught up in what just sounds good. But make sure you are actually talking about something that makes sense. That you’re giving life to life so that you are truly a deliverer, and not just a tool.