Gorman set out to craft a poem that was both hopeful and realistic, one that reflected the political divisions that have fractured the country but also the promise of greater unity. She finished writing the poem just after rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan 6.
“I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” she said in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
At 22, Gorman, who lives in Los Angeles, is the youngest inaugural poet in US history. She was brought to the Inaugural Committee’s attention by first lady Jill Biden, who saw her recite a poem at the Library of Congress, and was struck by her performance and her bold yellow dress (Gorman wore a bright yellow blazer at the inauguration).
To prepare for her appearance, Gorman, who has a speech impediment, read the poem aloud over and over, “practicing it and trying to let it be known in my mouth, but not feel robotic,” she said in an interview. Early reviews of her performance were glowing: On CNN, she was praised for summing “up with emotion and beautiful eloquence the idea of what this country came close to losing.”
As she recited “The Hill We Climb,” in the bright sunlight, her voice animated and full of emotion, Gorman described her background as a “skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother,” who can dream of being president one day, “only to find herself reciting for one.”
When day comes, we ask ourselves:
Where can we find light
In this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
With verses that echoed the theme of the inauguration, “America United,” she spoke of the possibility of unity, redemption and reconciliation.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow, we do it.
Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
c.2021 The New York Times Company