Honestly, I never thought I would ever see a 22-year-old poet perform at the Super Bowl, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that assumption. A night of football, hot wings, nachos, and beer doesn’t typically conjure cravings for the spoken word. But, then again, it seems like 2021 is a year hell-bent on making changes.
Along with changes in our current society, transfers of political power, and the fight for justice another prevalent force is coming into view: poetry.
Long gone are the days of English class and dozing off to Shakespearean sonnets and writing essays on the poems of Robert Frost. Instead, this resurgence of poetry is here to provide inspiration, clarity, and comfort to millions of people throughout the globe after a tumultuous 2020. And, with April being National Poetry Month, now is the time to broaden horizons with poetry and the spoken word.
This rise of “new age” poetry has been impending for the past several years: Madisen Kuhn, a 24-year-old poet from Virginia, began posting her poetry on the popular social media app, tumblr, in late 2012. After going viral on the site, Madisen self-published her first collection of poetry, Eighteen Years, before signing with the prestigious Simon & Schuster Publishing and releasing two more books. Her books have been lauded with 5-star ratings over several platforms and have sold tens of thousands of copies.
Rupi Kaur, after gaining a following on Instagram, self-published her book Milk and Honey in 2014. Since then, Milk and Honey has become a #1 New York Times Bestseller and prompted the release of its sister book, The Sun and her Flowers. Combined, the collections have sold over 8 million copies. Kaur’s newest work, Homebody, instantly topped the literary charts upon its quarantine release.
With social media creating a more modern and accessible way to view poetry, poets like Kuhn and Kaur are climbing the ranks and placing themselves on the shelves along with poet legends such as Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. And after a confusing, anxiety-filled year, many people are turning to poetry as a means to understand the world around them.
Now, I challenge you to search the word “poetry” on the news tab of any search engine and not come across the name “Amanda Gorman.” At age 17, Gorman was named the first and youngest National Youth Poet Laureate. Since the recitation of her original poem The Hill We Climb at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the poet has become somewhat of an icon overnight. Her books, The Hill We Climb and Other Poems and Change Sings are already national bestsellers—and they haven’t been released yet.
Raised in West Los Angeles, Gorman’s love for language stemmed from her single mother, Joan Wicks, who was an English teacher. As a child, Gorman struggled with a speech impediment and an auditory processing disorder that stunted her ability to pronounce and hear certain words.
“For most of my life, until two or maybe three years ago, I couldn’t say the letter ‘r.’ Even to this day sometimes I struggle with it,” Gorman told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
However, this impediment didn’t affect Gorman’s word choice as she recited The Hill We Climb at the nationally televised inauguration: reciting the word “rise” several times in a clear, resilient and confident manner.
“I don’t look at my disability as a weakness. It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be," she told the Los Angeles Times.
Since her inauguration recitation, Gorman has graced the cover of TIME, amassed millions of views over several media platforms, signed with the prestigious IMG models and, of course, performed at the Super Bowl pre-show. Gorman’s inaugural performance also gained her over 2 million Instagram followers within 15 hours of when she spoke.