After Amanda Gorman’s evocative poetry reading at Joe Biden’s inauguration on the 20th of January, several friends who know that poetry is woven into the fabric of my life wrote to me about how moved they were by her words. Poetry is powerful. Verse can heal an agitated heart. Reconciling stanzas can calm and douse fiery words and sincere tidings can smother the tirades leading to insurrection.
Appointing a poet laureate is a tradition maintained by many states, predominantly to compose poems for special occasions. The Netherlands also has one, but the unofficial Dichter des Vaderlands (Poet of the Fatherland) is a more recent cultural position created in 2000 by the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. I listened to the seventh Dichter des Vaderlands, Tsead Bruinja, emotively read one of his poems reflecting aspects of Dutch culture and I watched a video of the inauguration of the eighth, Lieke Marsman, which took place on the 21st of January.
For me, poetry is also an outlet to absorb and reflect upon the quotidian havocs of my life. Whether it is the multi-day poem that I wrote after I suffered a weird accident that left me unconscious and tore open my face or coping with the loss of a loved one, poetry is the rock upon which I rebuild my own ramparts. Every year in August since my 21st birthday I write myself a birthday poem for contemplation and future fortification. I saw on Bruinja’s Facebook page that Dutch poets are channeling poetry to achieve something similar, with poets writing curfew and corona poetry.
American poet laureates often capture the national mood, like Gorman did with her passionately delivered poem. Indeed, she is part of a continuum of writers whose poetry inspires political action. Poetry that calls attention to the difficulties of the day and time in which they spring.
I applaud Gorman’s efforts. I hope my words too can inspire renewal. To quote one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, poetry allows you to, “dwell in possibility”. I choose to dwell in the possibility of being an agent of revitalization—to build a happier, more fulfilling America for all of its people. Now, as Amanda Gorman implored us all standing on the steps of the Capitol, “If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Roberta Haar, professor of Foreign Policy Analysis and Transatlantic Relations at UCM