by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
EDITORIAL NOTE: The opinions expressed by Hazel are her own, and may not reflect the opinions of Carl Kruse or of the blog.
I finally watched Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, ‘The Hills We Climb’, a day after Biden was sworn into office. Considering the genre of poetry that’s ‘in vogue’ at the moment, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I was crestfallen when I heard Gorman’s poem. I’m certainly no traditionalist when it comes to poetic structure and content; though I sometimes enjoy the challenge of writing within rigid parameters in my own poetry, I equally enjoy simply writing the words as they come to me. Often, a poem will start with a line that forms in my mind and lingers within my psyche, begging to be written. However, more often than not, my aim in the completion of a poem is beauty. Poetic beauty can come from any number of literary approaches, and one need not follow the structure of a sonnet to write of love, nor that of an epic to write a story in the form of a poem. But I found no beauty in Gorman’s poem, despite all of the glowing reviews it received from the media. Though I understand the meaning behind it, and the necessity for Gorman to propound the issues within it of race and inequality and desire for change, I still feel as though it lacked any kind of memorability, grace, or beauty.
I’m not sure how to phrase all of this. I have spoken before of the pervasiveness of a certain type of poem in previous articles, but the celebration of Gorman’s sub-par literature solidified everything I believed to be true about the current literary landscape. On her Instagram, Gorman has posted other poems in a similar structural vein as her inauguration work, and there is one in particular that applauds key workers for their endeavors during the pandemic. Once again, I understand the sentiment that Gorman wished to achieve in this commissioned work (written, I believe, for the Super Bowl), but, to me, it was dull. Yet, underneath the video, people had written how the poem had made them cry, how Gorman was the most talented poet of her generation, and how all should look up to her as a great literary craftsman. All of this makes me question whether these people have ever read any other poetry, and whether they know what it means to be a great literary craftsman. It is astonishing to me how, now that Gorman has been on the front covers of many prominent fashion and lifestyle magazines, she has become financially wealthy, and since her inauguration speech, Gorman has been signed with IMG models, one of the most prestigious modelling agencies in America, signed book deals for her poem to be translated into 17 or more languages, and has her eyes supposedly set on the American presidency, having purportedly been endorsed by both Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
You might think me bitter, but perhaps I have cause to be. Models from hundreds of poor families struggle trying to make it in the modelling industry. I personally know many incredibly talented artists and writers, arguably far more talented than Gorman, who work tirelessly just to make ends. I understand that success is often a game of chance, one reliant on the current political climate, and one often defined by monetary assets. I also understand that, prior to her inauguration poem, Gorman was the first national young poet laureate in America, had written for The New York Times, Nike, and The Edit, and already had a net worth of over $2 million before the inauguration. But it is astounding to me that every single creative industry, it seems, has jumped on her back purely as a result of her (in my opinion) mediocre poem. I suppose it is testament to the state of 21st century capitalism that these prestigious companies know that Gorman’s face printed on the front of their brands will bring great traction as a result of her worldwide fame. But isn’t that sad? Isn’t the idea that one person can achieve all the dreams of another purely through an upping of social status? Maybe this has always been the case. Maybe I’m just naïve, and maybe I’m not giving Gorman the benefit of the doubt. She has talked often about the hard work she and those around her put into acquiring the recognition she has today, and I admire that in her. This article is less about Gorman herself than the infrastructure that has enabled her to climb the ladders of success in other creative areas aside from her poetry.
My opinion is naturally just that, and could well be misguided. Everyone has different opinions about what a good poem is, and what isn’t, and that’s fine; it’s just the nature of subjectivity around art. The main issue for me is that the poetry that receives the highest accolade at the moment never seems to be founded on intelligence, knowledge, or skill. Think of some of the greatest works of history; the satires of Molière, the writings of Joyce, the poetry of Milton. These writers drew on extensive knowledge and understanding of the classical literary world to make some of the most enduringly beautiful and genius works of literature that we know today. When I read them, I can almost feel the weight of history behind their words, and I notice and acknowledge their profound familiarity of the literary craft. I can’t find this knowledge, this skill, this perceptiveness in Gorman, or in Rupi Kaur, some of the most esteemed female poets of the century, those who have become international celebrities. And yes, there are many famous poets writing now that are brilliant, and that do write beautiful words that I enjoy reading, such as Warsan Shire and Jenny Zhang. But they, more often than not, are not the ones I see on magazine covers.
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Other articles by Hazel include What Makes Something Humorous, Being Lonely, and her Poetry.
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