What is this strange feeling? Joy? Relief? Joyful relief? Here in the US, we’re still in the middle of a series of catastrophes — a raging pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, domestic terrorism, the list goes on. But for one day this week, for so many of us, the US Presidential Inauguration finally brought a chance to exhale. I will admit to being surprised at the emotional nature of the day. And to how strange it felt to wake up on Thursday, able to look at the news with a sense of optimism, rather than dread.

As a publisher and former editor, as well as a verbal thinker, I see the world through words, and the last four years have been a struggle. America’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, carried the day on Wednesday, summing up the feelings that I suspect I share with many of you, as well as how effective the distillation of language into poetry can help us better grasp the essence of what we’re experiencing. From an interview with CNN, Gorman makes this clear:

To me, words matter…We’ve seen over the past few years the way in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated, and what I wanted to do is to reclaim poetry as that site in which we can repurify and resanctify…the power of words.

Early in the day Wednesday, Laura Helmuth, Editor in Chief of Scientific American shared a link to The End and the Beginning (2001) by Wislawa Szymborska, which captures both the optimism and the long road ahead. The poem begins with the stanza:

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

As I wrote back in November, real, substantive change takes hard work and time, but we are now far better positioned to bring about that change.

The highlight of the day though, was Gorman’s soaring words. If you haven’t yet listened to her recite The Hill We Climb, please take five minutes out of your day to do so. And if you watched it live, watch it again.

And take a moment to breathe. Good. Now let’s get to work.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

Discussion

7 Thoughts on "Words Matter: A Week Best Expressed through Poetry"

Thank you for sharing Amanda Gorman’s prophetic words. She reminds us of words’ power to repair, “rebuild, reconcile, and recover.” As you’ve noted, words must be fulfilled by action. Bless the poets who tell us their hopeful vision for the world we are constructing.

I’m an avid reader of your posts David. I’m Irish, living in the North of Ireland, but like you and the rest of the world, I was swept up in celebrating the inauguration of Biden. The whole day was emotional and joyful. Enveloped in the ceremony itself and the import of Kamala Harris’ appointment, with the many barriers she has circumnavigated to be where she is, Amanda Gorman entered without fanfare. She was indeed the highlight of a day of highlights. To echo yourself, let us breathe and treasure the emotions we experienced on that day.

Americans are a wonderful people–if they are not bombing you.

David, now that it is over, these four years very much reminded me of the darkness of Tolkien. I share this wonderful feeling that you so well described. The sun is back and there is fresh air. And Amanda Gorman qualifies for the Literature Nobel Prize. Best wishes from Berlin

I had no love for the circus clown
nor his desperate need to tear things down
but I do not see a new day dawning
just more of the usual media fawning
over a man who has failed us all before
with lies, deceit, and so much more
so I’ll carry on and hope for the best
and wait to see if he can pass this test

I hadn’t expected the day to be so emotional, but I ended up watching everything and weeping through most of it. Gorman was astonishingly apt, in so many ways. If I may (I trust David to decide if this is appropriate or not) I’ll share the post I wrote trying to get a grip on what the day meant to me. https://tscott.typepad.com/tsp/2021/01/enough-of-us.html

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