Poetry’s Amazing Recent Moments Has Raised Community Voices
By Martha Sessums, President, Association for Continuing Education
Poet Amanda Gorman has brought poetry back into the spotlight at a much-needed time. She became a sensation when she delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at the U.S. presidential inauguration. Her performance and the power of her poem was (and continues to be) reported on from around the world and on social media. She was also asked to become the first poet commissioned to write a poem to be read at the Super Bowl.
Poetry. At the Super Bowl. Amanda’s poem honored the essential workers today – an ICU nurse manager, a U.S. soldier and an educator – who were named “Honorary Captains” for their leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. Touchdown.
Poetry has always been important, but Amanda’s performances have struck a chord with so many. It’s a chord that pulls on all our community voices to listen and respond. A chord that needed to be pulled. That was waiting to be pulled.
ACE supports a poetry contest every April, the National Poetry Month, and here’s what Elisa Aguilar Cinto, a 2019 winner from San Francisco International High School, said in January prior to the inauguration.
“We can move forward together by supporting each other,” she wrote. “When I say supporting each other I mean to say that the leaders could care about human rights and that would allow the communities to share their opinions and ideas of how to build and manage a good and peaceful government that includes community voices.”
Community voices. A chord ready to be pulled.
Amanda has pulled the chord for the power of poetry and community voices in her performances and the many interviews she has given. In a CNN interview, she left Anderson Cooper speechless after revealing the very personal mantra she uses prior to each performance. For Time Magazine, she discussed with former First Lady Michelle Obama the role of art in activism and the pressures Black women face in the spotlight. In one interview, Amanda pulled the chord even harder.
“Poetry is the language of reconciliation,” she said. “It often reminds us of our best selves and common values . . .There is a specific power in poetry to sanctify, purify, and rectify, even amidst discord. . . In fact, poetry is the language of the people. I’d tell other young people that poetry is vibrant and ever-changing, and the art form belongs to us all, not to a select group. We need your voices, we need your stories, so don’t be afraid to pick up a pen.”
The chord was pulled by Amanda. Inspiration will arise. Voices will be given power. Community voices reflecting reconciliation for our communities and supporting each other. The power of poetry is one of the paths for our voices so we can all pull the chord.
The ACE Poetry Contest acts as an inspiration for our Learning Center schools to teach poetry and inspire students to write poetry. Last year it became an online experience where contestants performed their poems in their Zoom classes. We look forward to the poems of 2021 and their power to raise community voices and pull chords. Thank you, Amanda, for showing the power of poetry.
…The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.*
*From The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman