Watching Amanda Gorman lead the way for the written word to change the world
We read it in text messages, watch it unfold on the stage, and hear it in radio hits. Words cause us to swell with emotion. They help us convey thoughts. They bring people together. When Amanda Gorman took the stage at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, she gave her words the power to change the world.
In the 22-year-old woman’s performance of “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman captured the attention of viewers—many of whom had never heard of the young poet—who later earned enormous recognition. The buzz she created resonated in the hearts of some of the students at York College of Pennsylvania, who, like Gorman, have used poetry to drive their messages and find inspiration in her example.
“I’ve seen a general increase and awareness in my students who are drawn to poetry,” says Travis Kurowski, Assistant Professor of English. “The energy that poetry has always had as a stage performance is making a bit of a comeback because of the internet. It empowers poets to share their work now, as opposed to waiting until ‘it’s ready.’ ”
An impactful message
Briaunna Embrey-Banks ’22 found herself watching Gorman recite the inauguration poem on repeat. As a Criminal Justice major with a minor in Creative Writing and African Studies, she was drawn to Gorman’s message that appealed to a variety of audiences.
“It’s very easy to lead with anger or to be disrespectful,” Embrey-Banks says. “She didn’t do that. She used her words to unite people, and I kept coming back to that.”
Last fall, Embrey-Banks led a Black Out for Black Lives event, where students talked about the Black Lives Matter Movement through art, including poetry. To see Gorman perform in the midst of that movement gives Embrey-Banks hope that more Black men and women will have the platforms to lead.
“I’ve never seen very many people who look like me have that kind of opportunity,” she says. “It’s empowering to see someone like me on such a stage. As you grow up, you want to see people like you in those positions.”
The growth of poetry
Jon Lehr ’23 is lingering on the lines, “being American is more than a pride we inherit—it's the past we step into and how we repair it.”
“Her words are meant to be more than just something inspiring to listen to,” he says. “Gorman gives us a really strong call to action. It’s something heavy that we have to unpack. It’s calling us to recognize what Black Americans experience.”
As a Professional Writing major, Lehr sees poetry as an avenue to dispel the information that gets passed across social media platforms and to help people emotionally connect with others. He sees the power of poetry, and innovative ways of publishing, through Tumblr, Instagram, and other platforms. There’s a whole world of artists emerging through his news feeds, and like Gorman, they bring more than their words—they bring a performance, a unifying message, and an opportunity to be heard.
“It’s not just about expression,” Lehr says. “It’s about culture and the importance of who we are as a people. Gorman helped bring that value to the forefront, and I’m excited to see what that means for poetry going forward.”