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)
“I am the daughter of black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”
I thought year thirty-three was going to be the year of wisdom.
Profundity would find me on the edge of the ocean
dipping my toes in the waters of understanding.
Clarity would embrace me like a sister
and I would smile a thousand times.
But buried under year thirty-three
naïveté found me on the edge of stupidity
and dipping my toes in the waters of doubt.
Confusion embraced me like a sister,
heartbreak like a friend,
and I felt that I could die
a thousand deaths.
Thirty-three became the year of mourning.
A scorching misery, I would pull over my head
like a hoodie, pulling against the drawstring
so it covered my face
unafraid that someone might
mistake the heart in my hand
for a weapon and kill me
like an unarmed black man.
And I did not care if they did.
I was sackcloth and ashes.
Beaten by loss-the death of a mother,
uncle, brother, and the loss of a friend.
My tongue could taste the bitter tang
of humiliation like plaque on my teeth,
and tears turned into oceans I drowned in.
I thought year thirty-three was going to be
the year of wisdom.
And, strangely, it was.
Thirty-three quieted me.
It forced my tongue to the roof of my mouth
fixed my jaw to clench shut my teeth
while cultivating me in the furnace of affliction.
Profundity did not find me
on the edge of the ocean,
and I have not dipped my toes
into the waters of some grand understanding.
Instead, the flames of truth
burned off the useless layers
on the surface of my skin.
My tears are oceans of holy olive oil
washing away the sorrow from my soul.
Seeds of fight root themselves
in the crevices of my heart
that I have pushed back into my chest
so that out of the ashes of pain
wisdom may grow
so that out of silence,
understanding will meet me here once again
on the edge of the ocean
where I am smiling
a thousand times.
Don’t forget that if you have read My Soul is a Witness I am trying to reach 20 Book Reviews before this year closes and we are two reviews away! (Update: For some reason one of my reviews were removed. Boo. So I am 3 reviews away). If you have the book (and have read it), do consider leaving an honest review on Amazon by Jan 1.
Note: This poem is not in the book. It is new for those flipping your pages wondering where it is lol.
How to Review on Amazon:
Click this link. Scroll down to ‘Write a Customer Review,’ rate and leave your thoughts on the book.
Also, I am Soul is 99cents on Kindle for a limited time.
My Soul is a Witness, a collection of poems that reminds us that there is still hope in our darkest moments. Nothing we go through is without a purpose. No pain we suffer, and no trial we experience happens without reason. It all ministers to our education and the development of ourselves into the people we are ordained to become. It helps to cultivate in us a spirit of patience, faith, humility, and self-control.
I’ve been working on this collection of poetry since I released I am Soul three years ago. So much as happened in that time that most of this year feels like it happened years ago. It feels like Kobe Bryant died in 2019, but then I remember that tragedy happened earlier this year. I have to remind myself that Kobe’s death is how we opened the year!
It feels like I went to Spain for the first time last year, and then I realize that it was just this past February.
Sometimes, it feels like Friday, and then I remember it is only Tuesday. I find myself looking at the calendar more just to remind myself what day it is.
This is 2020.
The most significant change is the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually, we focus on our individual struggles, trials, and tribulations, so it’s funny to think about the world around us being just as chaotic as our internal struggles. As if a global, deadly virus isn’t enough, the rest of the world is just as upside down.
Black men and women continue to be gunned down in the streets. Historical monuments are being demolished as people awaken to the truth of its origin. The traditional school experience for our babies is all but gone. Sports games do not have an audience.
Oh, and we are all walking around wearing masks and shaming people for not being “productive,” enough during a pandemic.
*Queue George Orwell’s 1984*
We are eight months into 2020, and I sense we haven’t seen anything yet.
But there is always hope.
There is no better time than to release this collection amid such a revolutionary era. Revolution only means change, and while most of the changes we’ve seen have been negative, there is a lot of good happening too. The good is harder to see because hope doesn’t make the news, but like the wind, it is there. I had my first school visit this year, where I spoke to 15 ELA classes about writing. I also had my first keynote invite and welcome this year by the Queenz Circle of ATL Bookclub before the pandemic took away the freedom of face-to-face events.
A lot has happened this year not just for me but also for you, so here’s what I’ve learned.
I’ve learned nothing we go through is without a purpose. No pain we suffer and no trial we experience happens without reason. It all ministers to our education and the development of ourselves into the people Yah ordained us to be. It helps to cultivate in us a spirit of patience, faith, humility, and self-control.
I hope these poems are a reminder that in our darkest moments, there is still hope. And I hope this collection will invigorate and renew your soul.
Do not set out to write a poem. Strip yourself of all the education you think will make you a good writer, and undress all the fluff you believe constitutes a good poem. Write only what is in your heart at this exact moment—every thread of thought and every emotion you have not the courage to feel out loud. Write this. That thing you are afraid to say. Write that. Approach the page vulnerable. Come open. Come raw. Come wounded or come healed, but come bared of what you think poetry is and become the poem instead. Write accurately and precisely every sentiment you have bottled up inside. In writing what is in the most sacred part of your being, and the most intense sections of your soul, you may unintentionally stumble on something beautifully authentic.