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,