by Bill Batson
Through her words and demeanor, Amanda Gorman restored the dignity of the United States Capitol, which had been desecrated weeks before by insurrectionists. Gorman became the youngest person to ever read an Inaugural Poem on January 20, 2021. She shared the stage with newly sworn in President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, but Gorman stole the show.
And now her work is being commemorated in Nyack. Local artist Kris Burns has embedded the civic scene-stealing words of Gorman’s poem, “The Hill we Climb,” across the Village of Nyack. Look for the posters that will guide you through a poetry walk starting on Friday, Feb. 12th.
The buildings and streets of Nyack are often the canvas for the participatory art projects that Burns creates. From a village-wide series of flash mobs, readings, films and projections called Hopper Happens, for the 40th Anniversary of the Edward Hopper House, to the installations that have honored Juneteenth, Breonna Taylor and John Lewis in Hezekiah Easter Park on Main Street and serving as the art director for the Black Lives Matter Mural, Burns creates experiences that fuse culture, community and civics.
When Burns heard Gorman reading from the Inaugural Podium, she was determined to celebrate and amplify the verse here in Nyack. “We’ve needed to find ways to come together over the last year, to support each other during the impact of COVID and to affirm that Black Lives Matter,” Burns said. “I saw this as an opportunity to inscribe something elevating and hopeful into the fabric of our community, authored by an amazing, young Black woman at the top of her craft.
The words of The Hill We Climb will be divided, printed, and displayed as 13” x 19” posters in shop windows as well as displayed as 3’ x 8’ banners on fences, doors or walls.
At each location there will also be a flier with a QR code leading to a map of the poetry route, video of Amanda Gorman reciting her poem at the Inauguration, list of participating businesses, and link to the Nyack NAACP website.
Visitors will be invited to explore a unique route of the village guided by the lines of the poem. They will also be encouraged to scan a QR code and join the Nyack NAACP as new or continuing members.
Amanda Gorman was made the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017. The Harvard graduate was selected to read at the inaugural by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who had seen her read at the Library of Congress.
At 16, Gorman was named Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. She sites Maya Angelou as her biggest inspiration. Angelou performed “On the Pulse of the Morning” at Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration.
Gorman finished writing her poem in the wake of the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol. She read her poem in the shadow of a flag flying at half mast, to honor those who died during the insurrection. To her left and right stood empty seats, kept vacant to limit COVID-19 transmission. Yet from this the stark and somber setting, she mesmerized a nation urgently in need of inspiration.
One line in Gorman’s poem may be prophetic. She suggests that “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president.”
In 2017, Gorman announced her intention to run for president as soon as she turns 35, the age of eligibility. So if you like Gorman’s poem, look forward to her inaugural address in 2036.
For a more detailed map and a list of participating business visit historyhasitseyesonus.org.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Rockland People’s Panel on Policing” © 2021 Bill Batson.