An Open Letter to Amanda Gorman

Dear Ms. Gorman:

I read about how you felt “gutted” upon learning that a Florida school banned your poem, The Hill We Climb, for use in elementary school teaching and removed it from the elementary section of the school library. While I can understand your reaction, I think you should be pleased. My junior collage professor of Latin verse once told us that “poetry is by nature subversive and invites repression in countries throughout the world, but not the United States. In this country, the government does not censor poetry-because it knows Americans never read it.” You managed to do what my professor thought impossible, namely, get Americans interested in poetry, so much so that for the first time they are trying to ban it! Kudos on that score.

You should be encouraged by that Florida school’s ban. After all, poetry that is harmless is bland and boring. A poem that does not touch a nerve, unsettle the mind, challenge the status quo and make us a tad uncomfortable is like diet Coke. It’s just not the “real thing.” Your poem paints a bold and truthful portrait of what is, yet challenges us to dream of what might be. Naturally, that is upsetting to those of us who like things the way they are or who long for a return to some bygone era when America was “great” (as though that were even possible!). For those of us convinced that any sort of change amounts to our loss and that there is nothing for us at the crest of the hill, poems like yours strike a note of fear and anger. Sometimes, though, you have to open a wound in order to clean it and make healing possible. The ire evoked by your poem in that Florida school illustrates that it is doing exactly what a poem should.

Finally, nothing promotes a work of literature quite as effectively as a ban. You can be sure that, as soon as elementary school children learn that your books are forbidden, they will flock to them like flies to honey. Bans on literature do not work. They never have. Every society that has ever tried to ban literature has been on the losing side of history. Florida’s efforts to ban literature, censor teachers and stifle discussion of uncomfortable topics demonstrate that it has already lost the battle. Such futile measures make painfully clear that the champions of censorship know their ideologies, prejudices and worn out beliefs cannot withstand reasoned discussion and debate. Censorship is the last desperate, panicked attempt of a stagnant and dying society to save its collapsing order from the hurricane of revolutionary change. It will fail today as it always has in the past.

So, be comforted. Time is on your side. The future belongs to you. Your poem will be recited long after Ron DeSantis has been relegated to the dustbin of discarded demagogues like George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Strom Thurman. Truth, beauty and goodness cannot be banned.

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