Amanda Gorman talks about poetry, the pandemic and the 405 traffic on the first day of the LA Times Festival of Books

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Writing, Amanda Gorman told the crowd, often reminds her of traffic jams.

“Poetry can be like being stuck on the 405 in traffic,” she said. “You know where you’re going and you know you have to be there at 9am, but are you going to make it? We do not know.

The audience burst into knowing laughter.

Gorman – America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, who burst onto the national stage Last year after reciting a poem during the inauguration of President Joe Biden – was a headliner on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Book Festivalwhere she shared a new poem with the crowd on the first day of the event.

The two-day festival, which returned home to the University of Southern California after two years of virtual events, features food trucks, booksellers and more than 550 authors, chefs, artists, celebrities and musicians, whose Janelle MonaeBilly Porter, Danny Trejo, Don Winslow, Ziggy Marley and Kal Penn.

Now in its 27th year, the festival includes panels, talks and performances tackling dozens of topics, including crime fiction, mental health, the Los Angeles sports superstar tradition, slam poetry, the Constitution and the climate change.

Long before Gorman’s event started on Saturday morning, every seat under a massive tent was packed, and people lined up spots on the nearby grass for the chance to hear the author read from of “Call us what we wear”, her new collection of poems about the pandemic era.

At the start of the event, Orange County’s first-ever Poet Laureate, Natalie J. Graham, turned to Gorman and asked, “How’s your life going right now?”

“This is literally my first in-person poetry reading since the inauguration,” she said.

“Woooo! the crowd cheered.

During their conversation, Gorman shared the names of several people who inspire him – authors Ocean Vuong, Elizabeth Acevedo and Clint Smith, among others – and explained how grief often serves as a conduit to hope in his work.

“If I can get into this deep, dark place, that also means I can reach into the light,” said Gorman, who at one point told the crowd that she had attended the festival as a guest at the age of 8 years.

Minutes later, she read aloud “Fugue,” a poem from her new collection — the piece, she told the crowd, is about what the first year of the pandemic was like:

There was another discrepancy that suffocated us:

The simple parting gift.

Farewell, whereby we say to another—

Thank you for giving your life to mine.

By goodbye, we really mean:

Can we say hello again.

Earlier today, director Carlos López Estrada, known for his independent breakthrough “Blindspotting”, hosted an event with several young poets he has worked with on his feature film “Summertime”, a narrative film about spoken word storytellers from all over Los Angeles

Gordon Ip, one of the artists featured in the film, recited a poem he wrote as an ode to the Alhambra, his hometown.

“We are a fertile people, throw us in the earth and we will grow without sun, without water, without permission,” Ip said. “Ask me if I’m going to the Lunar New Year festival and I’ll say, ‘Which one?'”

In the crowd, several people snapped their fingers in encouragement.


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