cover image Call Us What We Carry

Call Us What We Carry

Amanda Gorman. Viking, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-55708-2

The poignant and searching debut from Gorman, the youngest presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history, goes beyond the inauguration poem to consider the larger role of history, struggle, and hope in American lives. As she writes in the opening poem, “Ship’s Manifest”: “To be accountable we must render an account:/ Not what was said, but what was meant./ Not the fact, but what was felt.” Her signature wordplay is everywhere evident, as when she writes, “This book is a message in a bottle./ This book is a letter./ This book does not let up./ This book is awake./ This book is a wake”—and when she considers “these times/ unprecedented & unpresidented”: “We became paid professionals of pain,/ Specialists in suffering,/ Aces of the ache.” With an epigraph on history from poet and classicist Anne Carson, as well as quotations from Virginia Woolf and others, Gorman invokes other literary voices alongside her own. Her belief in the power of writing is articulated throughout, as she writes in “The Shallows”: “What we have lived/ Remains indecipherable.// & yet we remain./ & still, we write./ & so, we write.” Many forms (including some erasures, among other visual frameworks, such as poems that look like text message bubbles) give this collection impressive variety. Gorman’s thoughtfulness and activist spirit shine through on every page. (Dec.)