Gorman’s ‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ was written for the inaugural reading of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith at the Library of Congress. The poem was read there, in situ, for the occasion. In this piece, readers will find many of the themes and images they’ve come to associate with Gorman’s work. This includes bravery, diversity, and strength in the face of every imaginable obstacle.
Explore In This Place (An American Lyric)
The poet takes the reader around the country, stopping in various cities to engage with recent tragedies and allude to the deeds of brave men and women. She celebrates the diversity of the nation, asserts that this diversity is what America is about, and states clearly that the country is not finished yet. It might have a long way to go, but that’s okay. Every place and every person, she concludes, has a song/poem to write, and every American citizen is a poet with the power to change the world they live in.
Gorman engages with numerous quite important themes in this poem. They include America as a country and as an idea, suffering and fear, as well as hope and strength. The last two are the best parts of the country, traits that come out when the country is facing its worst moments, such as in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the heroic acts of people like Jesus Contreras. There are also moments of fear and suffering, such as in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings, in Charlottesville, and in the hearts of Dreamers who fear for their place in the United States.
Structure and Form
‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ by Amanda Gorman is a ninety-eight-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poet did not choose to arrange the lines with any specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Instead, the lines make use of rhyme at times and at other times are devoid of it. For example, in lines sixty-seven through seventy-four in which, the poet uses the same end sound at the end of each line. There are also examples of half-rhyme scattered throughout the poem. For instance, “footfalls” and “halls” in line two, as well as “burned” and “reborn” in line ten.
Gorman makes use of several literary devices in ‘In This Place (An American Lyric).’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. The latter is one of the most important literary devices at work in the piece, as it is in other poems that she’s completed. There are numerous examples of allusions in this poem, ones that are tied to recent American history and tragedy. This includes the Boston Marathon bombing, the Unite the Right protest and march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in East Texas.
Alliteration occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “poem” and “place” in line one and line sixty-one, which reads “the black, the brown, the blind, the brave.”
Enjambment is a common formal device. It occurs when the poet chooses to cut off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-three. In fact, the majority of the lines in ‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ are enjambed. This helps with the overall flow of the poem and the creation of a natural rhythm.
There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
where tiki torches string a ring of flame
tight round the wrist of night
where men so white they gleam blue—
In the first lines of ‘In This Place (An American Lyric),’ the speaker begins by alluding to the importance of “this place,” the Library of Congress, in which the poet is reading her work. It’s in the next lines that the poet spends some time describing the feeling of the building. It has its own history, one that fills the halls and inspires her to write the words she’s now reading. The building is described using personification. It is “noble” and has a “lined face.” This alludes to the appearance of the structure as well as its long history.
She transitions partway through this section to speak about “Boston’s Copley Square,” near to where the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing took place. It’s there one could see the “love of many” that overcomes the “hatred of the few.”
Even more contemporary than the horrors of the bombing are the protests in Charlottesville, where a now well-known white supremacist march occurred in August of 2017. Three people lost their lives, including one counterprotester and two state troopers who died in a helicopter crash. There were more than 33 other non-fatal injuries due to clashes and vehicle ramming. The march was noted for the use of tiki torches by the white supremacist marchers. Gorman puts “Heather Heyer’s” name into the poem, the woman who lost her life marching in a counterprotest, in line twenty-four.
seem like statues
where men heap that long wax burning
where Heather Heyer
blooms forever in a meadow of resistance.
There’s a poem in the great sleeping giant
to spell out their thoughts
so her daughter might write
this poem for you.
The poet continues to travel around the country, touching down in Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Florida. She ended up in East Texas briefly before going to Los Angeles, where she lived during her youth. She includes some of her personal histories at this point by speaking about a single mother, her own, who taught in “a windowless classroom.” In all of these places, she says, there is a “lyric,” “a song,” or a poem. When speaking about East Texas, she alludes to hurricane damage of recent years and the fact that the people who live there have to rally their courage on a regular basis. She spoke specifically about 23-year-old Jesus Contreras, a paramedic who rescued men and women from the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey.
There’s a lyric in California
where thousands of students march for blocks,
undocumented and unafraid;
where my friend Rosa finds the power to blossom
the woman, the man, the nonbinary,
the white, the trans,
the ally to all of the above
She speaks more broadly about California in the next lines, where students march “undocumented and unafraid.” There, the poet’s friend Rosa, a Dreamer, stands strong in the face of retribution by the Trump administration. Her life in the United States, as well as the lives of many others, like Jesus Conteras, was under threat as President Trump tried to repeal DACA.
The poet zooms back in the next lines, speaking about her poem, this country, and how it belongs to people like Jesus and Rosa. It belongs to the “poor” and the “Muslim, the Jew.” The poet lists out numerous other destinations, such as “the trans” and “the ally,” in order to paint a broad picture of what America is and should be.
Tyrants fear the poet.
Now that we know it
we can’t blow it.
so it can grow, lit,
bringing with it
stories to rewrite—
The following lines display a very clear use of rhyme, one that makes them a pleasure to read and all the more impactful. The poet knows that her words have power, tyrants who rule over countries fear the strong words of people like her. She knows that now is the time for the youth of America to hope, fight, and make sure that they don’t lose their country.
the story of a Texas city depleted but not defeated
a history written that need not be repeated
a nation composed but not yet completed.
we are just beginning to tell.
Rather than speaking about one city, Gorman concludes the poem by talking about America more generally. There is a “poem in America,” she says, and a “poet in every American.” Every person has a story worthy of being told, and just because it’s penned doesn’t mean “our poem’s end.” The story of America goes on as the country continues to evolve and strive towards its best. She concludes by saying that the story, or American lyric, is one that “we are just beginning to tell.” There is a lot more to come as the country betters itself.
Readers who enjoyed ‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ should also consider reading Amanda Gorman’s poetry:
- ‘The Hill We Climb’ — written with hope for the future in mind and read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
Some other related poems are:
- ‘America’ by Allen Ginsberg — depicts the poet’s own disappointment with the social and political situation of America at the time this poem was written.
- ‘Long, too long America’ by Walt Whitman — an early Civil War poem in which Whitman supports constitutional democracy.
- ‘Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes — focuses on the American dream and what it means. As well as how hard it is to acquire.