The Criticism Around Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to read at an inauguration on January 20th. "The Hill We Climb" has received incredible praise from some prominent people in the poetry community (like Jericho Brown) and beyond. Its rhymes and accessibility make the piece immensely quotable, especially since it speaks to the state of our nation fairly well.

But, beneath the glowing praise and interviews, there are a number of trolls bashing everything from the poem to the poet herself.

Claim one:  Picking a Black female poet is pandering.

Every time a person from a minority group is picked for a job or task, someone cries affirmative action or pandering. Amanda is the first Youth Poet Laureate of America. She graduated from Harvard with honors. She isn't some unqualified child picked at random over other legitimate candidates. She has the education, skill, and presence to fully inhabit the role. She is young, but "gen z" is our future, so...

Claim two:  The rhymes and accessibility made it a terrible choice.

The poem was written to address a nation that is comprised of all backgrounds. Most people who watched the inauguration probably haven't interacted with poetry since high school. Rhyme and rhythm make things easier to remember and make more sense to the human brain than a jumble of free verse. It welcomes listeners. Heaven forbid a poem written for a country be easily understood by the citizens!

Claim three:  Performance pieces aren't poetry.

Slam/performance is an utterly traditional mechanic of poetry dating back to when oral storytelling techniques were the norm. Each generation might tweak or spin it, but performance poetry existed before every writer had a notebook in their pocket.

Performances are more engaging for large audiences. Reading like a statue with minimal emotion is a recipe for restlessness and tuning out. This isn't your MFA mixer night, Tim! If Amanda would have read without passion, they'd criticize her for that, too. "She phoned it in guys! So boring!"

If performances don't belong in poetry, we'd better take microphones and contracts from singers and rappers.

Claim four:  She's going to become a diva like Maya Angelou.

Why? Because she's a Black poet? Because she read at an inauguration like Ms. Angelou? I see no evidence... merely surface comparisons to support a wild theory about Ms. Gorman's future behavior. Is the person "concerned" about this going to be working with her in the near future? I'm unsure what race the person was who speculated this, but it almost sounds bigoted.
People are allowed to dislike rhyming poetry or what they consider trite.  However, diminishing someone's accomplishment for arbitrary reasons doesn't validate petty (at points, bigoted) opinions. And, policing poetry and all its possibilities is the mark of an absolute amateur who is thrilled to wallow in faux superiority (I know this because I used to do it). 

1 comment:

  1. What ridiculous criticisms. Luckily, I haven't been seeing that kind of talk in my circles. Mostly people have just said, "Wow!" or discussed particular lines that struck them. Myself, the harshest thing I felt was jealous that she has it so together at such a young age.