Amanda Gorman on the best lesson she learned this year

Amanda Gorman has had a pretty good year. The former National Youth Poet Prize laureate took the stage at Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20 and captured the world’s attention with “The Hill We Climb,” a moving piece about the promise of America. Soon to one reciting poetry at the Super Bowl; an agreement with a modeling agency; printout of her poem Inauguration; a concert co-hosted at the Met Gala with Billie Eilish, Timothée Chalamet and Naomi Osaka; and the publication of her first picture book, Change Sings.
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Amidst it all, Gorman also finished a timely collection of poems, Call us what we carry, coming out December 7. In seven parts and through poems that often experiment with form, the book begins to tell the story of the COVID-19 pandemic from a collective point of view, with Gorman exploring grief Grief, hope, and wisdom will come from a shared period of tragedy. She is acutely aware that Pandemic is still goingand figuring out how to grapple with that has become “one of the biggest challenges.” She used the emotions she was feeling in real time – grief, anger, confusion, and fear – to power her writing.

Here, Gorman talks to TIME about her writing process, her choice to incorporate her painful moment at work, and the most valuable lesson she’s learned from a year. his unprecedented.

In February, when you spoke to Michelle Obama for your TIME cover story, you talked about how girls of color are not treated and you have to tell yourself to stand firm in the belief that what you are doing matters and will last. Looking back on a year and all its many nuances, is that feeling still there? Or evolved?

We all have what I might call an induction tree. They say that when you get lost in a forest, one thing you can do is identify a tree that you will visit on your hike and try to find your way back. For me, this year really means identifying the plants I touch, nurturing them, and revisiting them. One thing that I come back to a lot is that poetry is very important. And that sounds pretty basic, but most of my life I’ve spent content these ideas, one, poets are just supposed to be dead, old, white people, and, two, Today’s poem written by people who look like me can’t be unimportant – that it’s cute, but not necessarily a craft or an invocation. I try to remind myself that poetry has always been meaningful and always will be, and that the work I am doing has had some impact not only on my own life but the lives of others. . So it’s important to keep going.

The world first met you through your poem at the Inauguration, then you went on to do so many other things this year. How do you feel about releasing this collection, back to your biggest calling?

Honestly, it feels a bit bizarre, because in a lot of writing sessions it feels impossible. There’s a voice in the back of my head telling me it’s not over, that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I have given myself a big task, dissolving the global pandemic experience. I’m just excited when people see more of my poetry and different aspects of my poetry that haven’t been seen before.

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I want to talk about dedication. It reads, “For all of us, both the wounded and the healed, who choose to move on.” Can you tell me a little bit about what that means, and who would you like to reach with this collection?

As I wrote the book, I knew I didn’t want to dedicate it to a specific person but to a group, to a community, which for me is really the core of the book. I don’t want it to be about the singular but the plural, because much of it is about what it means to get through this pandemic together.

On that note, you use the word “we” instead of “I” throughout the collection. Why did you make that choice and what do you hope the reader gets from it?

When I first wrote the book, it was almost like the narrator has multiple personalities. A sentence will start in the first person “I”, then go plural and suddenly it will be “we”. What it means to me is that while I am taking advantage of an experience I personally had with the pandemic, at the same time, there are many doors, bridges, and openings to connect with others. — that pain is mine alone, but it’s not just mine either. So my decision to use “we” as much as possible in the book really honors that. With something like a pandemic, the highlight for me is pan in that word, means all.

I was really surprised by the collection that focused on epidemic, just because, imagining you’re living through it and all the things you’ve been through while writing, if I were to put myself in your shoes, that sounds exhausting. I can imagine wanting to quit.

Thank you for mentioning that. That is one of the biggest challenges. I feel that it’s really important, while we’re still in the fog of war, to take a moment to look around and try to figure out what’s going on. [the pandemic] mean. The fact that I felt exhausted, stressed, scared are all realities that need to be included in the book.

I would like to talk about one poem in particular, “Truth in a Country”, which really stands out to me. It begins to describe a sad incident from this year, when you followed home by a security guard who did not believe that you live in your building. How did you feel writing about that event, and what did you discover in the process?

Yes, the incident was reported – but it was built on the foundation that the incident was really not an isolated event but a pattern that I and other African-Americans have lived through our entire lives. . This is why I write in a pluralistic tone: the problem is not the matter itself. The problem was that it was expected. I’m trying to disrupt the normality in which we, as Americans, experience violence and death, the ways in which we become insensitive to our own destruction. I want to revisit that pain and horror, because it has to be told over and over again to keep our humanity. What happens when we allow ourselves to feel offended, grieving and mourning the loss of the people of our country? Those kinds of emotions are what drive us to action.

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What did you feel when you wrote the piece?

There is only deep grief, deep anger. In that section, rage and anger are what I talk about a lot. There is also a kind of heart breaking love. There’s a line in it: “There’s no love for or in this world / That doesn’t feel both bright and unbearable, / Unidentifiable.” I tried to capture the feeling of love fully. In many ways, it opens you up to loss and vulnerability, but at the same time, it can also open you up to compassion and change.

What was your biggest lesson from the past year?

It’s important, especially for women, to identify and listen to your inner voice. We all have these instincts that tend to process faster than a sane mind can. And as things went by so quickly, I depended more and more on my instincts as a guiding principle. Maybe I can look back later and say, “Oh, these were all the signs of that decision before I made it.” But in the meantime, I must be able to think [on a gut level] about what I want for myself and my career. That helps because when I say no to so many opportunities that come my way, I think it’s saying yes to my instincts and agreeing to my values.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Amanda Gorman on the best lesson she learned this year

Aila Slisco

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