In times of struggle, the Youth Poet Laureate and activist turns to Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde

Art ignites emotion, inspiring change through action—and National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman knows this well. At 22 years old, the Los-Angeles based Harvard graduate has paired her love of poetry with her dedication to activism, using her words to create empathy within communities. From moving Michelle Obama to tears in 2016 to representing Gen Z at a Prada Group panel last November to her performance on CBS last Friday, Gorman continues to remind us of the power of our voices, expertly leveraging her own to bring attention towards social justice inequalities, environmental concerns, and now, hope in the time of COVID-19. To celebrate National Poetry Month with a twist on Document’s booklist series, Gorman​ shares seven poems that encourage change while providing comfort and courage during moments of crisis.

“On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou
“Maya Angelou is the spiritual beacon I always return to for a pick-me-up. This poem in particular is rich with hope, but a hope that is not blind nor flippant toward real and historic pain. Angelou refuses to ignore the shadows but finds the simple joy in every morning shared by people. I’d highly recommend watching her recite this poem live at the Clinton Inauguration.”

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou
“A classic! Need I say more? I remember talking to someone and them calling this poem ‘cliché’ (pardon me while I roll my eyes). I personally believe that, especially in periods of darkness, Angelou’s enduring message of liberation, hope, and agency is not cliché, but a timeless recognition of the power of voice. If you’re feeling helpless, caged in and constrained by shelter in place orders, this is a great poem to recite to yourself and discover a breath of light.”

“Hope is the thing with feathers (254)” by Emily Dickinson
“This poem is fantastic, partly due to its brevity, which allows anyone to commit it to memory and say aloud in times of need. Its rhyme and rhythm also helps it roll off the tongue. If you’re ever feeling down, remind yourself that ‘hope…perches in the soul…and never stops at all.’”

“A Woman Speaks” by Audre Lorde
“Audre Lorde is a poet more than deserving of your reading. Here, the poet is relentless and unabashed, revealing in the magic of her womanhood and her blackness. For all you women of color out there, here is a poem that suits as both a hopeful and unapologetic anthem.”

“I, Too” by Langston Hughes
“This poem is quite well-known, but I couldn’t make this list without it. Every single time I read it I get chills. I’d suggest reciting it aloud to yourself, to fully appreciate the sense that it is speaking of a power that is baiting its breath in the wings, waiting for its moment center stage. The poem is a fantastic ode to the idea that something better is coming, and that even those who have known nothing but shadow can dare to dream of a moment in the sun.”

“An Anthem” by Sonia Sanchez
“Of all the poems on this list, Sanchez’s are the most collectivist. If you’re looking for poetry that speaks beyond the individual, and tries to reconcile what it means to be an active community member in trying times, look no further. For lack of a better phrase, she communicates how we are all stronger together. After reading this poem that weaves the duty of the “I” with the power of the “we”, you will emerge courageous and ready to breathe fire.”

“This Is Not a Small Voice” by Sonia Sanchez
“I love a poem that acknowledges the revolutionary scope of love, as well as the bravery in speaking up. If you ever feel small, let Sanchez’s poetry remind you of your size and strength.”

Read all of Document’s reading lists here.