by Vinod Kripalani, January 21, 2023
Month: January 2023
Our Voice: The Speaker in “In This Place (An American Lyric)”
by Marie Yamamoto, January 21, 2023
“In This Place (An American Lyric)” is a poem written by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman that presents empowering ideas surrounding American patriotism, identity, social justice, and hope. As the title suggests, it is a lyric poem presenting the metaphor that American history is a narrative poem in which every American has the power to contribute to. Characteristic of lyric poems, the work has no structured plot or identifiable speaker; rather than tell a story, it instead ultimately aims to rally Americans of all races, classes, and statuses to assert their place within the United States using striking retellings of the past and present that instill hope in the reader. Furthermore, despite narrating parts of Gorman’s life, the speaker does not directly refer to themself within the poem, which makes their identity ambiguous. As a result, the speaker takes on an almost omnipotent quality essential to the poem’s themes surrounding unity and Americans’ shared responsibility to empower themselves and others. The speaker of “In This Place (An American Lyric)” by Amanda Gorman may be read as both Amanda Gorman herself and the personification of America, which drives the poem’s ultimate message that every American has the power to shape history.
Gorman’s allusions to her own life draw on the readers’ and listeners’ pathos to highlight the beauty in the triumphs of marginalized groups within the United States from her point of view. Among the other stanzas in the poem, the speaker recounts:
… a single mother swelters
in a windowless classroom, teaching
black and brown students in Watts
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you (Gorman).
This heartfelt anecdote makes reference to Gorman’s own mother, an English teacher in Watts who encouraged Gorman to read and write from an early age. Since she wrote this lyric poem to be performed, the specificity of these circumstances and her indication that this specific poem has been written for the listeners make it appear as though the speaker is Gorman herself. Beyond this, the inclusion of her background is a promise to others growing up under similar circumstances that they can find their voice despite the obstacles they face. Should children like the black and brown students she references here come across this poem, the speaker’s declaration that the poem is written for them may read as if she is acknowledging and appreciating their existence. As a black woman growing up in an impoverished neighborhood, Gorman’s allusion to her childhood serves to uplift those who may despair that no one may listen to them.
Another possible allusion to Gorman’s life is the speaker’s mention of “her friend Rosa;” the speaker is aware that “[Rosa] knows hope is like a stubborn / ship gripping a dock” and believes she embodies the promise that “… you can’t stop a dreamer / or knock down a dream” (Gorman). The speaker’s inclusion of “my friend” to describe Rosa gives this stanza an autobiographical touch. Especially when this is being performed by Gorman, she would appear to be the speaker of the poem as she is both endeared to this person and understands her mindset and conditions she is fighting for. Furthermore, Gorman’s personal connection to Rosa gives her dimension outside of her undocumented status. This stanza serves as a stark reminder that undocumented immigrants are not a homogeneous group of nameless people; they are all individuals who must fight to be accepted within the United States. Considering the other stanzas in the poem, however, the speaker may simultaneously take on a different persona.
The speaker may also be read as the omnipotent personification of America due to the multitude of perspectives the speaker presents throughout the poem and the solidarity they express towards the listeners and readers. From protests to hurricanes, the breadth of events and perspectives that the speaker calls upon reach across time and space. The speaker even tunes into America’s geography and architecture, describing Lake Michigan as “a great sleeping giant” and “a poem begun long ago, blazed into frozen soil, / strutting upward and aglow” (Gorman). That the speaker is unified with the voices of the American people and is even able to feel the land itself makes it appear as though the spirit of the country itself is speaking, perhaps through Gorman. This large-scale multifaceted perspective emphasizes the value of each person’s experiences in the grand scheme of American history, including the listeners and readers. The all-encompassing unity that the speaker feels toward the listeners and readers underscores the need for minority groups to remain hopeful for the future and continue to fight for equal treatment and acceptance within the United States. The speaker knows that those in power will try to oppress those fighting for social change but urges:
There’s a poem in this place–
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who sees that our poem penned
doesn’t mean our poem’s end (Gorman).
Here, the speaker feels history being crafted in the very moment that the poem has the reader and listener’s attention; the reference to the present moment in the repetition of “there’s a poem in this place” reads as though the speaker is reaching out to the reader directly just as the speaker was reaching out to the past. Every person’s collective effort to establish themselves within the United States’ historical and political playing field is acknowledged and urged by the speaker even if their narrative is being actively drowned out by their oppressors. Thus, Americans are intertwined in and watched over by the grand narrative of the United States.
Whether the speaker is read as Gorman, the personification of America, or both, the ultimate plea of this poem is to keep the spirit of America alive by fighting for justice. The speaker gives those who come across the poem both a glimpse into Gorman’s life and the larger history of the United States to create an overarching picture of what it means to be American. Overwhelmingly, the reader comes away from the poem with an understanding that they are not alone. Regardless of their race, sexuality, gender, immigration status, religion, or social class, the reader is supported in their efforts to establish their place within history in both the past and present and to uplift the voices of those who may be oppressed.
Gorman’s poem may be read here.
Gorman, Amanda. “In This Place (an American Lyric).” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets,
Timelapses and Traditions: What Did We Lose During the Pandemic?
by Vineeta Abraham, January 21, 2023
“10…9…8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3…2…1!”
The last bell of senior year goes off, followed by a chorus of cheers and whoops from the class of 2019. It’s a mess of tears, laughter, and breathless cries of “we did it!” as the familiar tune of the Sweet Caroline anthem plays us out of four long, exhausting high school years.
I look around one last time at the people I have grown up with for the past seven years. It’s not hitting me quite yet that life is about to change so drastically for every single one of us. It didn’t hit me when I saw last year’s graduating class go through this same ritual, nor did it the year before that, or even before that. I always imagined it would be now, in this moment, that the collective realization would strike us speechless. But it doesn’t feel like that. I suppose it won’t until I find myself looking back at these memories four summers from now, reminiscing over old friendships and the walls I used to call home.
And this moment. I’ll never forget this singular, loud, excruciating moment.
As we slowly resurface on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic and the almost two-year “time freeze” it imposed on society, there seems to be a lot of buzzwords floating around like “return to normal” or “back to how things used to be.” We’re now beginning to see the implications of such a return and uncover some of the complications that we may not have foreseen.
I don’t remember hearing of a graduating class before mine that didn’t participate in that jovial, last day ritual. Every year that I got to witness it, there were differences and modifications, but the end result was always the same: the graduating class gathered in their beloved lounge on the last day of classes, counting down the last ten seconds until the final bell rang. True to tradition, our own class followed suit, as we expected every class after us to do. We never saw an alternative.
Herricks High School’s class of 2020 did not get the opportunity to carry out this beloved tradition — nor did the class of 2021.
My sister, three years younger than I was, can still recall as a freshman watching my class count down to that last bell in 2019. When June of 2022 rolled around, I waited at home on her last day, expecting to hear about her own version of this bittersweet milestone.
But her version never happened. As she tells it, her grade simply did not do it.
Maybe half of the grade hadn’t even seen the tradition play out three years ago. Maybe those who did forgot about its existence. Whatever the reason, listening to my sister talk made me wonder somberly: was this tradition lost forever?
After all, as most traditions work, we learn from those before us. But with nothing to observe, would the next graduating class even know about this tradition, let alone others? Would they realize all the things that they would never experience because they had never learned of them?
It doesn’t stop at high school. As a twenty-one-year-old just dipping her toes in the sea of corporate life, I find myself wondering: what workplace traditions may I be missing out on? What workplace nuances got left behind when everyone packed up their offices in a frenzy in March of 2020? What is it like to physically visit your boss’ desk for two minutes? What exchanged glances across the office or inside jokes will I never get to “watch and learn?” How does happy hour even work with your colleagues?
With an odd mishmash of employees who are cautiously beginning to return to in-person work and employees who have permanently set up camp in the comfort of their homes, how can I – or anyone else in this up-and-coming generation of the workforce – reasonably expect to learn all the ins, outs, and in-betweens of the office?
Do we even want to?
All this talk of drifting away from the old brings in a whole other topic of discussion: drifting towards the new. Will we, as the new generation of employees, seek to dig deeper into office roots to uncover the subtle traditions and conventions of years past? Or will we abandon these ideas altogether and brainstorm new and innovative traditions of our own? And if we choose the latter – leaving old rituals to gather dust in the bottom drawers of our supply closets – do we risk resentment from long standing employees who crave, as we hear in the midst of the buzz, a return to their idea of normal?