Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Walter Edey
Everyone should rewrite his or her life. Yes, the practice of rewriting is demanding, but the pay-off of this exacting tool – and process, is rewarding. A case in point is a poetic happenstance at President Joseph R Biden’s inauguration.
President Biden’s speech – as well as other contributions – flagged the call for a more perfect union. Suddenly, towards the end of the ceremony, the amazing afternoon was further electrified by a poem. The Hill We Climb quietly hastened the dawn of a new beginning.
In retrospect, the beauty of the moment was no accident. Amanda S. C Gorman, the presenter of the poem, had reshaped and had rearranged the draft of her masterpiece. After the chaos of January 6, 2021, that is what she reportedly did. In fact reworking her future assisted her over personal problems.
Gorman, a national youth poet laureate, speaking to the media on the morning before her sartorial presentation, said:
“I had a speech impediment and couldn’t use my voice. Then I would author my voice on the page. It has been a Godsend and lifeline for me. And so, once I arrived at the point in my life in high school when I said, you know what, writing poems on the page, isn’t good enough for me.
“I have to give them breadth, and life. I have to perform them as I am. That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment. “
Gorman could not pronounce the letter “R.” Having overcome the knoll, Gorman aspired to fit the words of her poem to the idea, fill spaces and let her words shine above imagery. Word pictures of the message of her verse is all she hoped for, and wrote.
As she introduced herself to wider America, Gorman a young black activist and poetic essayist wore a yellow-breast-inspired winter coat. No explanation has been offered but it truly coloured her poem, which said in part:
“We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
That limerick and meme also holds true of Barbados. Many Barbadian youths are the descendants of slaves. They have single parents, and like Gorman, seek the highest office and status.
Gorman, daughter of a schoolteacher, made it to Harvard. Some Barbadian youths want to attend top schools. Others want to be master poets and craftsmen. And surely, still others seek both.
Truth told the reward of redrafting life passes through the tunnel of self–discovery. Looking at self, not at others. Burying biographies and pens – taking shovels and digging trenches leading to the common good.
That said, lanes reportedly opened up for Gorman after, not before the fact. After she owned and ploughed her fields and climbed her hills. After she grew her poems and shared the fruits. If Gorman can do it, can’t Barbadians – and Barbados do it too?
The tool of reassuring self is no mystery. It happens every time one changes the way one looks at the gifts in one’s toolbox of life – and letting their usage change you. Finding the grooves and not the bones and knots.
Sharpening them as they get dull.
Gorman dared the United States of America to rewrite its future, not just retell its past and to reword its story of hate and not just revisit it.
Ironically thirty-four years ago His Excellency, the Rt. Hon Errol Walton Barrow, in a 1986 campaign speech, paused and challenged Barbadians to rewrite how they saw themselves.
The nation’s founding father was scolding the ugly planation poem – a mindset that undermines social or economic justice. America has shown that some rewrite their poem for evil not good.
Poems that everyone must confront and stifle. Maybe, shaming and discarding the plantation idea is
the wrong approach.
Perhaps. if that mentality is viewed as an impediment: as in identity, not speech; as in self, not class; as in poverty not richness, then the mountain Barbados must climb, will in time – as with poetry – unearth it self; its beauty, and reveal its authenticity.
Walter Edey is a retired math and science educator.