Award-winning writer Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, was appointed the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word, and serves as the youngest board member of 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the United States. To inspire you for National Poetry Month, we asked Amanda about her work and how poetry is a medium for inspiring change.
How do you define poetry? Who gets to decide what qualifies as poetry, or what poetry looks like?
Poetry is art, it brings new, remarkable meaning to the mundane. It’s a magic of its own, and the beautiful thing about poetry is that it’s for everyone—it’s up to the poet what the poem looks like.
Educators are creating lesson plans around your poems and some are using your work to invite students to reflect and respond to the challenges in their communities and our country. How would you like to see poetry—and your work in particular—shared in classrooms?
I would hope that my poetry is empowering young people to use their voice for what they believe in. It’s so important for young people to recognize that they are the key to making a difference in their communities.
For many, their only experience with poetry is in school. How do you think we can make poetry more accessible to students of all ages?
One way to make poetry more accessible for others is to allow students to freely explore different ways of connecting to poetry. Not everyone will connect to the same type, form, or genre of poetry, but it is important that they should feel creative liberty to write about what they choose.
What role do you believe poetry plays or can plan in the world? How are poetry and change connected?
Poetry is an art form often used to give weight to a moment, idea, or time—it’s meant to connect with people in a different way than prose and offer a new perspective. Poetry and change are connected because poetry is an agent of change. By allowing people to look at the world in a new way, poetry inspires others to make a change.
What role does poetry play in the social justice movement today?
I find that poetry is always at the heart of the most dangerous and daring questions that a nation or world might face. It’s not about having the right answers, but rather being led to ask the right questions. We are led to ask ourselves how to do right by others and be inspired to use our voices to advocate for that in which we believe. We are compelled to extend justice and equity to those around us because poetry is a language of change.
Poetry is always at the heart of the most dangerous and daring questions that a nation or world might face.
Where do you draw inspiration? What questions do you ask yourself about the world?
I draw inspiration from so many different places—from past and current writers I admire, from music, and entertainment. I also love to draw from history; looking back on the past allows us a window to the future and is a way for us to see our current state more clearly.
What have you learned from our great poets and how do those learnings inform your work?
I always begin my poetry workshops with two questions. One: whose shoulders do you stand on? And two: what do you stand for? I am constantly learning new things from the great poets of the past and present. It’s my hope to pay honor to those poets who used their pens to move mountains, such as Phillis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, and Maya Angelou—they teach me to break boundaries with my voice.
Who are you following as the next voices?
I am following young writers who I believe will be the next great generation of poets, so many of them come from wonderful nonprofit organizations that I am so proud to support who are working to make literacy and poetry more accessible. Some of these include Write Girl, 826 National, and Migizi.
Interest in poetry is on the rise! Why do you think poetry has come to really matter again?
I think poetry has always mattered whether or not the mainstream always remembers it; I personally believe that poetry is the language by which we often communicate what we hold most dear, and at a time when the stakes are so high globally, whether it be in regard to the stakes of peace or the stakes of the planet, it’s no surprise to me that we have turned to poetry as a source of solace.
What’s left to be said and how can we encourage the next poets?
There’s so much to be said, but one of the ways we can encourage the next poets is through exposure and support: making sure they are read, seen, shared, and heard.
Amanda’s Recommended Poetry List
- Change Sings by Amanda Gorman & Illustrated by Loren Long
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
- Love by Matt de la Peña & illustrated by Loren Long
- Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou; edited by Sara Jane Boyers; and illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat
- The Day you Begin by Jacqueline Woodson & illustrated by Rafael Lopez
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
- Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye