Category Archives: American Politics

Amanda Gorman, 2021 U.S. Inaugural Poet

The inauguration of Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, on 20 January 2021, was historic in a few ways. One was its virtual nature, the physical absence of crowds, necessary because of the global pandemic. Another was the swearing in of America’s first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, who is also the first woman of color to be elected to the position. It was notable for another reason, too: Amanda Gorman, the sixth inaugural poet, brought down the house with an electric reading of her poem The Hill We Climb. Selected for the spot by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, she follows in the footsteps of poets like Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco and Robert Frost. At 22, Gorman is the youngest person to receive the honor.

Gorman begins her poem by asking how, as a nation, we can overcome adversity, alluding to the challenges the country has experienced over the past few years: the bitter political divisions, the grievous losses caused by the pandemic, and the renewed struggle for civil rights and equality for all Americans. She answers her question by invoking a just pride in the country’s past, but reminds us how that past inevitably shapes the promise of our future:

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promised glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

You can hear Gorman’s inaugural reading of The Hill We Climb here.*

Gorman, who, as is customary, composed the work for the inauguration (in poetry speak, this is known as an ‘occasional poem’), had a little over a month in which to write it. She sought inspiration in the work of her predecessors, as well as in speeches by Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill. The young poet was not a novice, however. She served as the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017, when she read her work at the Library of Congress at the inaugural ceremony for U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.

Gorman grew up in Los Angeles, where her mother is a middle school teacher, with her twin sister, Gabrielle. She was an avid reader and fell in love with poetry at a young age. As she said in a 2018 TED talk to students in New York City: ‘Poetry is interesting because not everyone is going to become a great poet, but anyone can be, and anyone can enjoy poetry, and it’s this openness, this accessibility of poetry that makes it the language of people.’ Gorman graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2020, and along the way has received a number of awards and honors, including the Poets & Writers Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award. She was also a 2020 Writer-in-Residence at our ‘sister’ American Library in Paris. 

Gorman’s poem is emblematic of spoken word poetry, with its rousing repetition and incantatory passages. Spoken word, as scholar Kathleen M. Alley has written, has its origins in ‘oral traditions and performance’ and is ‘characterized by rhyme, repetition, word play and improvisation’. Which brings me to another notable fact: like President Biden, Gorman has a speech impediment, which she overcame in part by writing poetry and reading her work aloud. ‘I don’t look at my disability as a weakness,’ Gorman told the Los Angeles Times. ‘It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be.’ 

This young American poet inspires for any number of reasons: her talent, her drive, her sense of style, her bravura performance, her confidence. But any writer’s measure of success ultimately lies in the work, in the words she crafts, and by that measure, Gorman succeeds brilliantly. ‘A poem should arise to ecstasy, somewhere between speech and song,’ wrote poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a long-time champion of spoken word, who died in San Francisco this week. Amanda Gorman’s poem soars over that bar, moving this writer to tears and hope for a future in which Americans ‘will rebuild, reconcile, and recover’:

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Gorman’s poetry collection, The Hill We Climb, will be published by Penguin Random House in September, along with her children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem.

*I was advised by a Researcher and Reference Services librarian at the Library of Congress that the poem is protected by copyright, so the text is not reproduced here in full. 

 — post by Suzanne Solomon

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Filed under American Culture, American Politics, Books

This Day In History!

At a loss for what to write that could spark my interest today I decided to look up events of this day in history and was pleasantly surprised to discover an event which had, possibly, a transformative impact on the world. In this day in 1941 the Lend-Lease Act was signed into law allowing the transfer of free provisions and materiel from the United States to Allied countries at war with Germany, Italy, and Japan.

This was quite a controversial move for a country that was still technically neutral until events later that same year. However, strong arguments can be made that it was the transfer of materiel, especially aircraft and food, which tilted the balance in the Battle of Britain and in gaining air superiority over the English Channel.

While I had known about the Lend-Lease agreement in doing a bit of digging for today’s blog I learned a few interesting new things. Firstly, the agreement was to return anything at the end of the war unless it had been destroyed, however in practicality most materiel was in unusable condition for peacetime and as such allies were allowed to keep, free of charge, most remaining supplies. Interestingly, the agreement was ended without warning though after the surrender of Japan and any shipments which were already enroute to the Allies were charged for, although at a severe discount.

Secondly, the Lend-Lease agreement also accommodated reciprocal  exchange in the use of zero-cost leases for army and navy bases in allied countries, many of which still exist though of course no longer for free.

By the end of the war the equivalent of over $50 billion in supplies (over $500 billion in modern terms) had been donated to Allied nations with the lion’s share going to the UK. Conversely the use of land for bases and other reciprocal deals are estimated to have been at a value of almost $8 billion over the course of the war. This figure was very surprising to me in serving to show just how immense the industrial and transportation capacity of the US was in the 1940s.

All told, the signing and continuance of the Lend-Lease Act over the course of the war was vital to Allied victory and almost certainly altered history in a fundamental way. And it all started 78 years ago on this day.

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Filed under American History, American Politics, Uncategorized, World War 2

Spring 2019 Lecture Series

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The 2AD Memorial Library’s Spring 2019 Lecture Series spotlights the multifaceted nature of studying the United States and World War II. The series features a range of scholars from different disciplines as they discuss the changing face of American culture and our understanding of our own history.

All talks will take place at the Millennium Library on Thursday evenings at 7PM. To book tickets email 2admemorial.lib@norfolk.gov.uk, find us on Eventbrite, or phone us on 01603 774747.

 

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“The current period of Nazi frightfulness”: Cinemagoing in the Blitz (25 April)

A night at the pictures often offers the prospect of escape, but was that possible under the threat of enemy bombers? This talk will discuss what happened to British cinemas and British cinemagoers during the Blitz.

Richard Farmer is a Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of East Anglia.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-current-period-of-nazi-frightfulness-cinemagoing-in-the-blitz-tickets-57878104970

 

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Jazz and Disability (2 May)

This talk explores how early jazz reception thought of the new music and dance as disabled and even disabling. It also considers the musical careers of key jazz musicians with disabilities, inviting us to think of jazz as an enabling musical practice.

George McKay is a Professor Media Studies at the University of East Anglia and Humanities Research Council Fellow for its Connected Communities programme.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/jazz-and-disability-tickets-57878776980

 

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Of Mice and Krazy Kats: The History and Art of American Comics (9 May)

This talk will provide an in-depth examination of the complex history of American comics from early newspaper strips to contemporary graphic novels, including the birth of superheroes, WWII propaganda comics, controversial 1950s horror comics, and contemporary graphic novels.

Frederik Byrn Køhlert is a Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/of-mice-and-krazy-kats-the-history-and-art-of-american-comics-tickets-57878242381

 

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Indigenous London and Beyond: Native Travellers at the Heart of Empire (16 May)

The stories of Indigenous travellers, willing or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Australia show the ways in which London and Britain have for centuries been bound up in the Indigenous experience.

Coll Thrush is a Professor of History and Associate Faculty in Critical Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia. He is also the International Investigator on the AHRC-funded project Beyond the Spectacle: Native North American Presence in Britain.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/indigenous-london-and-beyond-native-travellers-at-the-heart-of-empire-tickets-57878315600

 

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American Apocalypse: 21st Century Climate Change Fiction (23 May)

This talk considers how the apocalyptic dangers of climate change are being addressed by American fiction. Climate change fiction, or ‘cli-fi’, offers us a way to assess, understand, and address the phenomenon of global warming and the impact of humans on their environment.

Rebecca Tillett is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/american-apocalypse-21st-century-climate-change-fiction-tickets-57878709779

 

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A Heroic Mass Shooter? The Politics of Netflix’s The Punisher (30 May)

Due to his unyielding methods of exacting violent justice, much has been discussed about the Punisher. What is the place of Marvel’s controversial antihero within today’s politics? How has his new Netflix series been received in the Trump era?

Miriam Kent is a Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of East Anglia.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-heroic-mass-shooter-the-politics-of-netflixs-the-punisher-tickets-57878147096

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Politics, Memorial Library, Public Events, World War 2

This Week in History

While we normally focus on WW2 or older US History in conjunction with American Culture I thought it would be nice to briefly discuss some of the more recent coalition actions performed by the US and the UK in alliance. In this week, 1991, Operation Desert Shield which protected Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression shifted to the offensive. This offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm, began January 17th with the counter-invasion of Kuwait by allied coalition forces with the goal being to liberate the country. This swift and united action, the first of its kind since the fall of the USSR and ending of the Cold War for the US, resulted in a freed Kuwait and the Iraqi army being forced back within their own borders.

The opening moves of this offensive would have been readily recognizable by any member of our own esteemed 2nd Air Division. A widespread bombing campaign of militarily important targets, a tactic largely unchanged since WW2, was used to cripple the Iraqi ability to continue hostilities. Also, similarily to WW2, ground offensives were held until the men in the skies had done their job; sometimes as many as 2,500 missions a day making it a very busy job indeed. This intensive and focused air campaign allowed the ground forces to declare victory within just 100 hours of their involvement, a feat which would likely would not have been possible without the skills and techniques developed by the Air Force in WW2 and honed since.

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Filed under American History, American Politics, Uncategorized