An excellent and eloquent written debut collection
Amanda Gorman was 22 when she could recite her poem “The hill we climb” on Jan 20, 2021 at the inauguration of President Biden in Washington DC, a recitation that went around the world. Her powerful performance touched me on the other side of the ocean at the European continent too. In December of that year, her debut collection "Call us what we carry" hit the shelves worldwide. (Vertaling in het Nederlands: Noem ons wat we dragen, jan 2023 door Zaïre Krieger)
The collection is not that easy as I expected. Gorman delivered a seven-part collection in which she delivers verses partly as a witness or observer in a documentary style and partly as an elegy. Many of her poems tell about how shattering and confusing the year 2021 was in the US. Testimonies from the American history coincide with the images of that year. Whereas she sketches what has happened during the Covid pandemic for example, she also remembers and repossesses the voice of an American soldier, Corporal Plummer, an African American who was stationed in France during the Spanish Flu, at the end of the first World War. She dug up archival materials from him to work with.
Fury & Faith is a chapter mostly about the George Floyd assassination under police custody, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) manifestations in the US, but which also got followed up in many other countries worldwide.
Gorman’s verses are packed with echoes and rhythm, in a way I’d still prefer them being performed by the poet than only being able to read them.
Fury & Faith
“Together we envision a land that is liberated, not lawless.
We create a future that is free, not flawless.
Again & again, over & over.
We will stride up every mountainside.
Magnanimous & modest.
We will be protected & served.
Be a force that is honored & honest.
This is more than protest.
It’s a promise.”
Migration into the US ("The Surveyed – Report on migration of Roes") is brought up, just like the deterioration of the environment ( “Earth eyes”). Gorman finds word for the loss and grief, and the pain of the country. However, she tries not to exaggerate the traumas but to find words to heal and repair.
This collection is certainly chock full of American references I may have not grasped entirely, from pop culture or other American poets, but also of other references from around the world. From Shakespeare’s Othello or Emily Dickinson’s 'letter to the world' for example, what Gorman calls her entire debut collection actually. She brings in "A dictionary of English Etymology" from 1859, and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. A lot of layers and images are found throughout the poems. Her words sing throughout the whole collection: “America, / How to sing / Our name, Singular, / Signed, Singed.” The point of view is mostly not the ‘I’, but the ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’, an exception in these times of individualism and selfhood. The layout and the orientation from the sheets differ here and there according to the format.
CORDAGE, or ATONEMENT (Hensleigh Wedgwood, A Dictionary of English, 1859)
We would leap out of this night
Down-rushing on our head.
Often we cannot change
Without someone in us dying.
Until we can hold near
Who we hold dear.
What a marvelous wreck are we.
We press out of our cold
& separate crouching.
Like a vine sprung overnights.
We were reaching & wretched
Upon this mortal soil
& even so we are undiminished.
If just for this newborn day.
Let us take back our lives.
Every day we are learning
Every day we are learning
How to live with essence, not ease
How to move with haste, never hate.
How to leave this pain that is beyond us
Just like a skill or any art,
We cannot possess hope without practicing it.
It is the most fundamental craft we demand of ourselves.
Grant us this day.
Bruising the make of us.
At times over half of our bodies
Are not our own.
Our persons made vessel
For non-human cells.
To them we are
A boat of a being,
Microbiome is all the writhing forms on
& inside this body
Drafted under our life.
We are not me-
We are we.
What we carry
Gorman’s excellent and eloquent written collection ends with the famous and luminous inaugural poem we have all heard her perform at Capitol Hill.
Bundel met gedichten over de gevolgen van de wereldwijde coronapandemie en over sociale ongelijkheid in de VS.