“The Poet Diaries”: Happy New Year!

The following is a guest post by the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. This is the fourth in a series of monthly blog posts that Amanda will be writing during her laureateship this year. 

Amanda Gorman reads at the Los Angeles Public Library. January 13, 2018. Photo by Gary Leonard.

As we enter the first few weeks of 2018, new beginnings, ideas, and conversations are on the brain. I definitely enjoyed one of my first events of the year, which was in partnership with the Library of Congress, the California Center for the Book, Urban Word NYC, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Los Angeles Public Library. The City Librarian of L.A., John Szabo, opened the event, which was called Poets Laureate: From L.A. to D.C. It featured a performance from L.A. Youth Poet Laureate Mila Cuda, and a reading of poetry by myself and Los Angeles Poet Laureate and National Book Award Winner Robin Coste Lewis. To top it all off, we had a conversation on poetry and laureateship with Rob Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.

In the realm of new beginnings, at the event I read some new poems I’ve written throughout the fall and winter, many of which deal with matters of race, gender, sexual assault, nature, and the multigenerational complexities of the African diaspora—which is why it was a particular pleasure to read alongside Robin. She’s a fellow Angeleno and Harvard alumna. Moreover, she openly regards “black joy” as her “primary aesthetic”. While her work is rooted in the literary tradition of the African diaspora, she also has a degree in Sanskrit and comparative religions, which often appears in her work, notably her poem “On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari” (from Voyage of the Sable Venus). Her poetic contributions also interrogate the constructions of beauty and the historic influence of the black female figure. She writes that this work “is challenging. It would be great, for example, if I were the kind of poet who could just write a poem about eating an apple.”

Amanda Gorman and Robin Coste Lewis in conversation with Rob Casper. January 13, 2018. Photo by Gary Leonard.

And in many ways I have to agree. This past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which not only had me thinking about new beginnings, but also the continuous struggle for civil rights. Speaking personally, it isn’t easy when your poetic voice is called to expose the black female experience and the multifaceted influence of that identity on history and art. During our panel in L.A., we discussed whether our laureateships had changed our poetry, and for me my answer was yes and no—no, in that there are the lifelong literary values which I have, and will always continue to embrace, including diversity of voices, styles, rhythm, and lyricism. Yes, because in being U.S. Youth Poet Laureate my conception of the purpose of poetry is always expanding and evolving. I’m always asking: Which voices are being left out of this poetry? How can I include them? How can my poetry inspire? How can I use my platform to bring new and important issues to the forefront of the conversation?

Even if I don’t always find the exact answers to these questions, it’s still important to ask them. As Robin and I discussed at the event, the laureateship is a phenomenal opportunity for public service. I firmly believe that in order to be the best public servants and poets we can be, we must constantly think of new ways to approach and embrace our positions. We must remember our past—which MLK Day helps us do—while also striving to create new legacies for the future. What will your new beginning be?

“What’s Your Equation?”: Jacqueline Woodson Inaugurated as Sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

The following is a guest post by Phebe Miner, a 2017-18 intern in the Poetry and Literature Center. When students from Brookland Middle School in northeast D.C. were invited to participate in a Q&A with the newly inaugurated National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, the first question elicited laughter from the rest of the audience. Sixth-grader […]

Phillis Wheatley: A First for Verse in America

The following post is reprinted from the January–February issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. The issue is available in its entirety online. Thoughts on the Works of Providence ARISE, my soul, on wings enraptur’d, rise To praise the monarch of the earth and skies, Whose goodness and beneficence appear As round its centre moves […]

Still Need a New Year’s Resolution? Read a Poem a Day!

We’re just a few days into 2018, which means there’s still plenty of time to fine-tune your goals and wishes for the year. While I don’t exactly have the best track record of seeing through particularly ambitious resolutions, I’ve found that setting small, creative aspirations for the year tend to be the most achievable and […]

A Rare Discovery in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The following is a guest post by Juan Manuel Pérez, Reference Specialist, Hispanic Division. It originally appeared on the 4 Corners of the World: International Collections blog. The Library of Congress’ collections are so immense that it does not matter how long you have been working here, you only come to know a very tiny fraction […]

Introducing Students to Poetry through the Work of Emily Dickinson

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. Sometimes just the look of a long poem intimidates students. One way to ease their misgivings may be to present poems that are visually brief, […]

Looking Ahead to 2018 Events

As 2017 comes to an end, we’re excited to share what the Poetry and Literature Center has in store for the first half of 2018: For those on the West Coast, catch National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis at the Los Angeles Central Library on Saturday, January 13. The […]

Christmas poems by Joseph Brodsky and other U.S. Poets Laureate

A few years back I wrote a blog post about Robert Frost’s “Christmas Cards.” Frost’s cards—chapbooks, more accurately—were first issued in 1929, and then annually from 1934-1962. While Frost was the first Consultant in Poetry or Poet Laureate to embrace a literary Christmastime tradition, he was not the last. In 1962, the year Frost’s final […]