Amanda Gorman’s Call Us What We Carry Poetry Collection Captures Pandemic Mourning
As the youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history, Amanda Gorman has quickly become one of the most inspiring voices of our generation. In Call us what we transport, his long-awaited collection of poems, Gorman moves away from the ambitious and hopeful tone of his famous inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb”, to harness the grief and reflection brought on by the pandemic. There is anger, confusion and sadness in these poems, but there is also a lot of history and documentation. We will be known, Gorman seems to suggest, by the way we create memories of that time.
The volume is divided into several parts including Requiem, What a Piece of Wreck is Man and Earth Eyes. Throughout, Gorman refers to the past to clarify our present. For example, she writes about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned the immigration of Chinese workers, the flu epidemic of 1918, and the stereotypes of the Chinese as carriers of cholera and smallpox. In this, we see that the past haunts the present. Our current pandemic is one of the many palpable tragedies in these pages; others include the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, racial profiling, the Holocaust and the AIDS pandemic.
This documentation of humanity surviving despite unfathomable catastrophe shows us the individual and collective capacity to survive. It is the grief that we go through and also the grief that we will overcome. The poems that touch on Zoom’s fatigue, the wearing of masks (“We were mouthless for months”) and the group texts, formatted in the form of objects like whales and buildings, are refreshing to read.
This pleasant disturbance of the poetic rendering includes checkboxes with lists. “At First” with its stanzas in dark text boxes, recalls the feeling of the early days of the pandemic, “unprecedented and without a president,” she wrote. “Sorry for the long text; There are no little words in the mouth … Our hearts have always / been in our throats.
The first set of lyrics for what sounds like a sad song arrives as part of Requiem in a three-line vertically-formatted poem titled “Please” which has twelve words separated by the equivalent of the six-page page. distance feet using hooks. The reader is required to change perspective or reorient the page to determine the many meanings of words on the page, as well as the act of changing a traditional reading style.
Gorman only tells readers what she’s doing after reading the poem, which can inspire a second or third reading. This academic approach presents a range that his august inaugural poem, also included in this volume, alludes to. But in Call us what we transport, it also has notes referencing studies and statistics. One study, for example, offers data showing that women and people of color often give way to white pedestrians. Another data point is that nearly 48 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
One poem, “Fugue,” describes the ways our socialization has been transformed by COVID and carries a footnote, indicating that social trust is at an all-time low. “Captive” details the familiar contours of our isolation and quarantine: “Six months and we still couldn’t understand / What we were losing every minute. / We stalked each other every day in our own home, / Absolutely abulic, incessantly angry. “
Given the politicized nature of critical racial theory discourse fueled in large part by the continued visibility of The 1619 project, Gorman’s section, “Atonement,” reads like an innovative, discreet and subversive text. In a disclaimer, she notes that the poems in this section are “erasure poems,” which together read as a revised archive of those affected by the 1918 flu epidemic. “These are documents with their pieces torn off, just as some will call it the past year, the long year, the year of the glove, the year without love. ”
“DC Putsch”, shaped like a Capitol building, looks a lot like a description of the insurgency of January 6, 2021; but it is in fact a cleverly written account of James Weldon Johnson’s 1919 report on race riots for the NAACP Crisis magazine: in the shadow of the Capitol dome, on the very doorstep of the White House. . It is surprising and profound to see these parallels years later, as if no time had passed in a century.
Between daydreams and observations, Gorman’s finely tuned attention to the manifestations of our fear, our nostalgia, our loss of so much but above all of our control, also reminds us of his role – and that of poetry – in recovery. , healing, moving on. The poem “Memorial” begins: “When we tell a story / We live / Memory”. All along Call us what we transport, Gorman shows us how an honor it is to witness and survive history, even if that is not always the case.
“Narration is the way in which unarticulated memory becomes art, becomes artefact, becomes fact, becomes felt again, becomes free. ”
The liberating force of the stories these poems tell about our resilience and survival present a powerful griot for our time.
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