Amanda Gorman’s nod to Derek Walcott

It’s hard to imagine Gorman not growing up with Walcott being recited at home.

The opening lines referencing time, the internalisation of the challenge ahead, the humility of looking introvertily at one’s weaknesses and embracing the imperfections of oneself echoe Walcott’s Love after Love.

I could almost go as far as to say Walcott’s self healing treatment laid bare a platform on which Gorman was able to accelerate this message out of oneself and into the wider healing sense sought in community.

I’ll say no more.

Both poems are copied for your enjoyment.

Derek Walcott’s Love after Love (1940’s)

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Amanda Gorman’s Biden inauguration poem The Hill We Climb (2021)

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.

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

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.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew.

That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried.

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

This effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith, we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared it at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be:

A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain:

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the west.

We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realised revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked south.

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Knowledge with sentiment

There’s a value in trying different lifestyles and disciplines.

Evolutionary discovery

Hunting for comfort is an instinctive act.

Coming through

Refusing to accept the identities we were adopted in this world by, is the ultimate betrayal of oneself. An act of despair.

Self-oppression by transplantation, still foreign despite appropriation.

Faking privilege is the struggle of colonisation over the naked truth.

Invisible

Criticism behind closed doors.

Narcissism in deep waters.

Withholding the inevitable natural life-cycle of renewal for a little while longer.

Circles and lines

Concrete morality. Bourgeoisie locked jaws loosening up.

Like how fulfilled one feels as dinner is being had at the end of a long trip.

And the journey begins again…

A year ago today…

I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.

I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.

I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.

Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.

I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.

Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.

I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.

 

Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.

Ode to the London Overground

So imagine you are in your city but it suddenly feels a different place altogether.

It wasn’t in a place I had not been before either. I think my state of mind was in an altered state being there like that for the first time. It involved using the public transport but the difference was in the vibe, the society, the moment.

I have been on the london overground a number of times, going to meetings, hopping out east to the wick or north to highbury. I know the trendies, the mummies, the original hackneys carriaged away up and through neighbourhoods previously out of reach. I been in situations where the rodent were getting trodden on by the passing cars, in full view of affluent dining audiences. Seen it all.

But that was new. Before midnight jumping on the overground at Hoxton station, me and others after or on the way to boozing. Gracefully space etiquette adhered to, spaces between seats, no roughing, no shuffling. Air con, smooth ride. Hovering just about leveled with top floors of Victorian terraces, bridges, warehouses. Light reflections on the inside, obstructing sensible assessment of the view on the outside. Spaced out in a spacious vehicle, with all the room for a poetry based on shuttle messages, all so effortless and out worldly smooth.

ATIVAN/AUGUSTINE

Even the young Augustine would be no match

for Ativan’s airless latch, and there’s no grace

quite like his Grace who accords each urge

its place, then hastens through good nights:

bedded, celestially unshaken, he’s shirred

all weight, the drapes of consciousness closed,

doubts chased, words left unstirred. Hippo supposed

chastity, continence, should come—but not yet.

Not young, I’m still in heat. Forget the sleep

of sheep beneath southering flocks of geese,

the drug’s sweet release from grief, hollow clouds

settling down, softening the sheets. I’ll mete

time grooming, cleaning teeth: even without,

some nights I sleep. Come uncoupled, complete.

Poem by John Hennessy

hennessy
John Hennessy, poet

AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

  • Transatlantic Review Award in Fiction from the Henfield Foundation
  • 2007-2008 Resident Fellowship in Poetry at the Amy Clampitt House
  • Recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth Matchett Stover Memorial Award for Poetry from Southwest Review.

Hennessy is the author of two collections of poems, Bridge and Tunnel and Coney Island Pilgrims. He has published fiction, poetry, and a variety of literary and critical essays in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2013, The Believer, Harvard Review, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, Poetry, The Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, The Yale Review, What’s Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey, and Best New Poets 2005. Hennessy is a contributing editor to Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics, and he is the poetry editor of The Common, a new magazine based at Amherst College’s Frost Library. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.