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UNL poet awed by Amanda Gorman's reading at Biden's inauguration

UNL poet awed by Amanda Gorman's reading at Biden's inauguration


Amanda Gorman dazzled the nation and UNL poet and writer Kwame Dawes on Wednesday.

Gorman made history as the youngest poet in recent history to read at a presidential inauguration. Her predecessors include Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

Poet Kwame Dawes


“Hers was a moving articulation for the moment — timely, lucidly constructed and, in moments, elegantly sublime,” Dawes said. “Above all, she owned her youth, her appreciation for the moment, and spoke in ways that had meaning and value.”

Dawes is the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner magazine at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he is a Chancellor’s Professor of English. He’s also a regular blogger for the Poetry Foundation.

Gorman said afterward on Twitter that she wore a ring with a caged bird, a gift from Oprah Winfrey, to symbolize Angelou. “Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before,” she said.

Dawes, a prolific writer himself, said he admired Gorman’s clarity of thought and her ability to craft beautiful statements suitable to the occasion.

Her poem was titled “The Hill We Climb.’’ She told the New York Times that she wasn’t going to gloss over the events of the past two weeks and the past few years, and she didn’t. Somehow, she said, “we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”

Dawes said Gorman’s use of rhyme is deft and judicious.

“She also was fully aware that not just a nation was watching her, but the world was watching,” he said. “I admired her confidence, and her poise under such pressure.”

Much was made of Gorman’s youth. In her poem, the 22-year-old called herself a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother who dreamed of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

Dawes said no one should have been surprised by her eloquence and promise, since some of the greatest writers, artists and leaders created their work when they were her age and even younger.

Gorman was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles at 16, and while at Harvard was chosen as the first National Youth Poet Laureate.

“The public poem of occasion is never easy, but she met the challenge admirably, reminding us of why poetry matters,” Dawes said. “It is true, we may in fact be the light for our own restoration.”

Scenes from Inauguration Day

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Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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