An excerpt of Gorman’s poem, courtesy of NPR:
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.
“My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country,” she told Washington Post book critic Ron Charles last week, “that with my words I’ll be able to speak to a new chapter and era for our nation.”
That she did, with a beautifully delivered poem full of alliteration and internal rhyme.
Gorman, who graduated from Harvard in 2020, was reportedly recommended to the inaugural team by new first lady Jill Biden. One would never guess that a few years ago, Gorman was struggling with a speech impediment. As she told The Lily last year, writing was a means of self-expression when she found herself unable to verbalize her thoughts. Music helped her overcome her impediment, which included difficulty pronouncing the letter R. The cure, in part, turned out to be tunes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Hamilton.”
“My favorite thing to practice was the song ‘Aaron Burr, Sir,’ from ‘Hamilton’ because it is jam-packed with R’s. And I said, ‘If I can keep up with Leslie in this track, then I am on my way to being able to say this R in a poem,’” she told CBS News, referring to actor-musician Leslie Odom Jr.
As a sign of gratitude, Gorman tweeted that she included two references to “Hamilton” in “The Hill We Climb.” (Miranda noticed and responded to Gorman on Twitter: “You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava!”)
She also paid homage to a previous inaugural poet. When Oprah Winfrey tweeted her congratulations, Gorman replied: “I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in. While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird — a gift from @Oprah for the occasion, to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before.”
Gorman is set to release two books in September, “Change Sings,” a picture book, and her debut poetry collection, also titled “The Hill We Climb.” Penguin Young Readers will also publish a special hardcover edition of her inauguration poem this spring.
In the days leading up to the inauguration, Gorman told The Post’s Olivier Knox that her first political memory was of her mother making sure she knew her Miranda rights.
“When you are a Black child growing up in America, our parents have to have what’s called ‘the talk’ with us. Except it’s not about the birds and the bees and our changing bodies, it’s about the potential destruction of our bodies,” Gorman told Knox in an interview Saturday. “My mom wanted to make sure I was prepared to grow up with Black skin in America, and that was my first awakening to the political climate I was stepping into.”
Gorman also told Knox that Biden’s inaugural team gave her “complete freedom” about what to write, and that she wrote the poem hoping to replicate the intimacy of a gathering of a group of Americans in her living room.
“When I started to write, I thought of the grandparents, the children, the fathers and the mothers,” she said. “I want every single one of them to feel represented in my words.”