Best-selling author Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” had listeners across the country in rapt attention as she spoke at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Described as a “celebrity poet,” her words have reached people who were unfamiliar with—or didn’t enjoy—the poetry genre prior to her reading. She released her newly anticipated poetry collection, “Call Us What We Carry,” on December 7, 2021.
With accessible language and varying forms, Gorman’s poems are written with an often times veiled sharpness, encourage readers to be mindful of the past, present, and future. She tackles themes of identity, erasure, trauma, and growth, exploring the 1918 influenza pandemic all the way to the current COVID-19 one, giving shape—sometimes literally as seen in her concrete poetry—to the horrors that have been haunting the world’s consciousness since March of 2020.
Her poetry appears to be a call to action, asking readers to unite together in the face of tragedy, rather than become divided: “Since the world is round/There is no way to walk away/From each other, for even then/We are coming back together.” The country has unfortunately been politically divided since almost the beginning of the pandemic, thanks to poor rhetoric and misinformation. Despite this, what the world is currently experiencing is so devastating that Gorman believes we must come together to fix it: “Only we can save us.” It doesn’t stop at just the pandemic though; Gorman writes about gun violence, climate change, and racial injustices with the same urgency.
The experimental poetic forms that are used convey her messages in a meaningful and interesting way. A poem titled “Vale of the Shadow of Death or Extra! Extra! Read all About It!” is written as a newspaper column, and describes the original misnaming of the ‘Spanish Flu’ and the consequences of it. “Report on Migration of Roes” is modeled after a real immigration questionnaire, and one of the more haunting poems from the collection, “Monomyth,” is a screenplay that chronicles the events of the pandemic.
Even though the language is accessible and everyday, Gorman’s delivery is precise and rhythmic, giving the words a whole new meaning. Her poems seem to be made for the spoken word, and because of that I believe some of them would read even better out loud than they did on paper. Her strength lies in language and “Call Us What We Carry” felt like reading a time capsule of the present.
The book ends on a hopeful note, despite not knowing what the future holds. As the book describes her, Gorman is “our voice of the future” yet, she also seems to be our voice for the present. I recommend “Call Us What We Carry” and give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.