A funny thing happened when people reacted to my post reacting to reaction to Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb.” They very much wanted to share their thoughts, but (with one exception) not to give their names. Most identities below are disguised.
Beth wrote: “I think Amanda Gorman is a lovely, poised, passionate young lady. Not a poet. I am afraid to say this to anyone else because it would be taken as racist and sexist. Maybe that is why others are mum.”
Catherine wrote: “Bravo! Hallelujah! Your blog was a breath of fresh air in a very smoky literary climate. If I’m just a bit over the top, you’ll excuse me—I’ve been grumbling about the Gorman poem (earnest, clichéd prose separated into lines) and Poetry magazine for a while. It’s wonderful to read someone who assures me I’m not alone in my judgments. “
Catherine continued: “The irony is that poets are the ones most likely to share progressive views . . . The idea of opening up the ranks of people who get published to include under-represented minorities makes all great sense and yes, the fact that the canon is largely peopled by white men is undeniable. That observable truth is what has driven what I believe to be an over-reaction to publish the marginalized groups, regardless of the quality of the work. Oh my, I think this is maybe a phase we need to go through until things start to right themselves.”
Donna wrote: “My shyness about public comment on other poets stems from not wanting to cause pain, I suppose. I liked young Amanda as a person and as a representative of the future, but felt sorry that she was tasked with such a heavy public role so young.” Donna went on to note (as did critic William Logan) that none of the earlier inaugural poems (six to date) has been anything special.
Estelle wrote: “I was very excited about Gorman . . . I think she entranced on many levels that clouded my (& so many others’) ability for closer critical response to the actual poem. It’s challenging to critique it without throwing shade on such a bright hopeful moment but I think it is necessary, especially for her. She has gotten so much attention, so much praise at such a young age, that it may undermine her ability to mature as a poet.”
I was grateful but embarrassed to hear from Fiona, who alerted me to a notable critique I had missed clean. (Points off here for inadequate homework.) “Amanda Gorman Was Let Down by a Terrible Poem,” wrote Melanie McDonagh (caricature) in the July 21 issue of the British magazine The Spectator. I think McDonagh spends too much time faulting Gorman on logic (not so relevant to poetry), but applaud her conclusion: “You could just about get away with declaiming all this at a rally . . . but as poetry?”
Of course an inauguration is akin to a rally, and some who disliked “The Hill We Climb” have kept quiet on the grounds that written-to-order work like this needn’t be taken seriously. Some sat on their critical hands because of Gorman’s youth. And some, certainly, swallowed their thoughts for fear of being tarred with the racist brush.
The people who made high claims for “The Hill We Climb,” of course, were held back by nothing at all.