What is so important to me, a Black Southern woman who writes her authentic truth in verse, is the incredible door Gorman is opening and will keep opening for us in poetry. As I watched her, gorgeous as she is, walking up to that inaugural podium wearing her red Prada headband like a crown, in her striking yellow coat — a sun only mirrored by the light emanating from her — I was so proud of Amanda Gorman.
I was proud to know that she would stand there, not as a mouthpiece for an administration but with her own voice against White patriarchy and oppression. I was proud that she offered celebration for the end of the last four horrific years. I was proud because she accepted the challenge of writing for this very dizzying occasion, because she spoke to the pain of living in a country which has not always been kind to us, and because she was there, visible and glowing, a young Black woman letting us know that her words matter.
I have been, like many Americans, incensed by these last four years which were, we know, just a natural extension of the underbelly of White supremacist thought that has haunted our nation since its founding. I have been at times frustrated and afraid for my life. One change of president doesn’t erase that fear, but in her command of the inaugural stage and international attention, Gorman allowed me to take a breath and celebrate that at least this one, president-shaped roadblock to equality was gone. She brought poetry into the conversation. To hold a poet up as a vital part of this transition of power makes me hopeful.
And I cannot lie — it’s always a good day to be a Black woman, and Wednesday was no exception. I was so happy to see the many examples of Black women doing what we do so well — shining. Michelle Obama stunning in her oxblood suit and her undimmable sparkle, Vice President Harris’s eyes lit up with joy as she swore the oath administered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and of course, the spectacular Gorman speaking through that winter DC air with her words.
Maybe a poem won’t literally pass legislation or deflect a bullet from exploding in my Black body, but a poem is what makes our hearts move. It does make people think, reflect, and it can even lead to empathy. We need that. That quality of light where hopes and dreams can live is what this country needs, and you can count on the artists to keep fueling all of our movements for liberation. Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for being a brilliant example.
This op-ed has been updated to correct the year of initial publication of Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.”