Ms. Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South
NASHVILLE — When the poet Amanda Gorman stepped to the lectern at President Biden’s inauguration, she faced a much-diminished crowd of masked people on the National Mall, but she was speaking directly to the heart of a bruised nation:
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried.
Ms. Gorman’s poem — addressed to “Americans, and the World” — was timeless in that way of the most necessary poems, but it was more than just timeless. After a year of losses both literal and figurative, she offered a salve that soothed, however briefly, our broken hearts and our broken age.
Poets have always given voice to our losses at times of national calamity. Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is an elegy for Abraham Lincoln. Langston Hughes’s “Mississippi — 1955” came in direct response to the murder of Emmett Till. Denise Levertov wrote one poem after another after another to protest the war in Vietnam. In 2002, Billy Collins delivered a memorial poem for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks before a special joint meeting of Congress.
The poems inspired by Black Lives Matter are almost too numerous to count, and their ranks continue to grow, in spite of the personal cost of “chasing words / like arrows inside the knotted meat between my / shoulder blades,” as Tiana Clark writes in “Nashville.” ” . . .