Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman review – vigilant, truthful

The young poet who electrified Joe Biden’s inauguration has produced an impressive, if uneven, first collection

From the moment Amanda Gorman started to speak at President Biden’s inauguration, on 20 January, the effect was spellbinding. A graceful young woman in a brilliant yellow suit, speaking to millions – she seemed like sunshine itself, bathing the audience in her light. That performance of her poem, The Hill We Climb, had star quality – and her words, pressing for national unity and reconciliation, soared. The sentiments might not have been out of the ordinary but their delivery was. “The new dawn blooms as we free it./For there is always light,/ If only we’re brave enough to see it./If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Gorman is brave enough to be it. And to be able to perform at a political gathering and at once lift up and move an audience in this way is rare – the legacy of Martin Luther King needs no labouring. She is now celebrated as a US national youth poet laureate and could even be described as the country’s dazzling new secular preacher. For, as her poem Cordage, or Atonement, puts it: “Poetry is its own prayer,/The closest words come to will.”

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