Viking Books, 240 pages
Published December 7, 2021
When then 22-year-old Amanda Gorman took the podium at the 46th Presidential Inauguration of President Joe Biden to recite her poem “The Hill We Climb,” I knew history was being made. As U.S. Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest poet at a presidential inauguration, Gorman spoke hope and vision to the heart of a nation on the edge of transition and in many ways rife with division.
Her new book of poetry, Call Us What We Carry, is all of this and more. “This book is a message in a bottle. This book is a letter. This book does not let up,” she writes. Gorman’s insights take readers to the depths of the realities of pandemic life over these last two years. She writes, “In pandemics, everything is scarce except for grief.” She goes to the depths of loneliness, describing being “siloed,” unable to touch one another, hug and have community. Reading these words was cathartic in how it named our shared pain: “Funerals without families,/ Weddings in waiting/ The births in isolation./ Let no one again/ Have to begin, love or end alone.”
This is more than a poetry book; it is an experience. Gorman employs form and structure to accompany each poem’s meanings and emphases. For example, she has poems in the shape of text messages, a ship and a whale. She took journal pages from an African American soldier during the 1918 flu pandemic and wrote poems in response to his writings overlayed on the actual journal pages. In “Fury and Faith,” Gorman’s poem begins in the shape of the U.S. American flag in black and white. As she continues, the pages go from black to gray to accompany her words.
I drew on Gorman’s words as I preached on Ezekiel 37 for a church in Washington, D.C., in a sermon called “Breathe.” Her poetry caused me to think deeply about this time in which we live — a time where many have lost breath and struggled to breathe. Just as God calls Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath” and speak life to a beleaguered nation, this is the role of prophets and especially the church. At God’s word and the prophet’s obedience to follow God’s instruction, the dry bones came back to life.
Gorman and her poetry follow the prophetic tradition of naming the realities of peoples and nations offering a word of hope to call us forward to a new reality. She dedicates Call Us What We Carry to “all of us both hurting and healing who choose to carry on.” This is the challenge, opportunity and invitation for us today. Call Us What We Carry is to be read, reflected upon and savored, perhaps journaling as you read and experience the poems. For, as she recently tweeted, “To love just may be the fight for our lives.”
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