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Opinion: Finn Marsden

Amanda Gorman: An icon of our generation

“Roses are red, the world is big, my neighbour from hell ate my guinea pig.”

There stands my repertoire of poetry, an art form that has remained dormant in my mind only to have been awakened momentarily so that I could pass an exam and go to University.

Why is that the case? Maybe it’s because I’ve had no way of relating to the poets I’ve grown up listening to; Duffy’s stories of spinsters, MacCaig and his fascination with basking sharks, and who knows what the hell Burns was going on about.

However, whilst watching Joe Biden’s inauguration that changed for me - I actually found myself listening to, relating to, and truly understanding a poet.

Amanda Gorman, 22, was born and raised in LA as the daughter of a teacher, a role-model that she said she looked up to as a strong woman, empowering young people. Her mum opened up to her the world of literature, from the likes of Brontё to Maya Angelou, and Gorman was captivated.

Image: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States from Wikimedia Commons

However, she battled with disabilities that you would have never known existed in the woman you see today. For most people who strive for a career in public speaking, a speech impediment would be disastrous. Gorman, on the other hand, saw it as a gift.

She saw it as a chance to focus in on every word she said, to really get behind what its meaning was and the impact it would have. She credited her ability to control her impediment to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

“I would try to keep up with Leslie Odom Jr. as he’s, you know, doing this amazing rap” explained Gorman in an interview with CNN. “I would say, if I can train myself to do this song, then I can train myself to say this letter.”

The wonders of Hamilton remain endless.

In 2017, at the age of 18, Gorman was named the United States' first National Youth Poet Laureate for her contributions to the awareness of issues such as race, oppression and marginalisation, standing out as a voice for young people who care about these issues but quite often feel that they are not heard.

In 2020, Gorman, along with much of the world, spent her life under lockdown. In her case, the remedy was binge watching The Great British Bake Off, enveloped in soggy bottoms and binned baked Alaskas. Little did she know she’d receive a phone call from a big fan of hers, Dr Jill Biden, asking her to speak at her husband's inauguration.

Image: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States from Wikimedia Commons

And so we return to my quick thinking, poetry fearing mind listening to the words of her patriotic passage, The Hill We Climb.

“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 gazes 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.”

Here is someone I finally understand, someone who speaks for young people on an international level. In her own words, “Poetry is a weapon, it is an instrument of social change. Poetry is one of the most political arts out there.”