When Poetry Unites

Embracing current events in real-time is a hallmark of homeschools everywhere. When something happens, we can watch, research, discuss and learn from it as it develops. Today, the Inauguration of our 46th President of the United States is a prime example of just this type of learning.

January 20, 2021: We began this slightly snowy winter morning by studying poetry from past inaugurations. The history of Inaugural Poets is short (only five poems have been included in any of our nation’s past U.S. Presidential Inaugurations) and specific to only three U.S. Presidents: John F. Kennedy (1961), Bill Clinton (1993 and 1997), and Barack Obama (2009 and 2013). These three presidents left behind a legacy of caring for the arts and each was known to have had a high level of appreciation for reading and literature.

After reading each of the past inaugural poems this morning (see the full list with links below), we found them to be wholly inspiring and transcendental. There were nods to Native Americans and the founding of our country, the importance of inclusion of people of all races and backgrounds, and calls for hope and new beginnings. One poem specifically called out to children and new generations to know our nation’s history but to also be the creators of change; children being our hope for the future. One shines a light on nature and unity while addressing our common humanity. Though all the poems seem to have a shared thread: They focus on American values and ideals. They address our American identity and are relatable, visual, on-point-yet-timeless, and beautifully written for all Americans and the common bonds we share.

John F. Kennedy‘s Inauguration in 1961 included the poem by Robert Frost, titled, “The Gift Outright”

Bill Clinton in 1993, included Maya Angelou in his Inaugural day when she recited, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

At his second Inauguration, Bill Clinton honored the poet Miller Williams as he read his poem, “Of History and Hope” in 1997.

Barack Obama welcomed “Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander at his Inauguration in 2009.

At his second Inauguration in 2013, Barack Obama introduced the Nation to the poet Richard Blanco and his poem titled, “One Today.”

We were particularly excited to see a poet on the list of today’s Presidential Inauguration presenters. Because appreciating poetry is our JAM.

Amanda Gorman is only twenty-two years old. She is the youngest poet to read for a presidential inauguration and was an inspiration to us. Her work was powerful and passionate, like others we had seen in the “Louder Than a Bomb” spoken-word poetry slam in Chicago. Her poem, titled, “The Hill We Climb” was written within the past two weeks, after the insurrection riots at the U.S. Capitol in early January and she did not soft-pedal those events. She performed her poem with grace and artful precision and delivered a work that will be remembered by many.

For while we have our eyes on the future, History has its eyes on us.

– Amanda Gorman

Poetry can do so many things, as we know from “This is a Poem that Heals Fish.” Poetry can celebrate, inspire, mourn, move or narrate. But at times like this, a poem is called upon to do more than entertain. It must also unite. Today’s poem by Amanda Gorman was a welcome exclamation point to so many positive and energetic speeches made by our new president, journalists, historians, pastors, and lawmakers alike.

When a poet can create art that reacts in real-time to what is going on in the world, that art becomes one with the action, part of the understanding, and essential to the healing. In an interview with The Accidental Poet magazine, Gorman said, “For me, being able to stand on a stage as a spoken word poet, as someone who overcame a speech impediment, as the descendant of slaves who would have been prosecuted for reading and writing, I think it really symbolizes how, by pursuing a passion and never giving up, you can go as far as your wildest dreams. This represents such a significant moment because never, in my opinion, have the arts been more important than now.”1

Amanda Gorman is a recent grad of Harvard University and the author of the poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (2015). She is the founder of a non-profit organization called “One Pen One Page”, which is an online youth writing and leadership program, and is the author of the children’s book, “Change Sings.”

Ref: More about Amanda Gorman here1 and also here.

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