The Transformation of Our Perception
If you were emboldened by witnessing the power of words reaffirmed on the world stage in January—thanks to a stunning recitation of “The Hill We Climb” by inaugural poet Amanda Gorman—it was likely not because you had forgotten the simple truth that words matter, but rather because you never forgot. Not once during the past four years, certainly not if you were paying attention, perhaps against your better instincts, to the way words were regularly violated, misappropriated, and exploited by the man ceremoniously fired in November. “To me words matter,” Gorman said in an interview on inauguration night. “What I wanted to do is to kind of reclaim poetry as that site in which we can repurify and resanctify—not only the Capitol building that we saw violated, but the power of words, and to invest that in the highest office of the land.” The power of that word: invest—to provide or endow someone or something with (a particular quality or attribute). The image of a young poet investing, endowing the presidency with the power of words once again—what a gift.
Several weeks ago I had the honor of talking with Charles Johnson, author of the novel Middle Passage, who spoke about how demanding the work of the writer is—precisely because of that power words hold—but also how infinitely rewarding. “The reason it’s worth it is because you’re giving a gift to readers,” he said. “You’re giving your best thought, your best feeling, your best technique. And it’s not about fame; it’s not about fortune. It is about giving with generosity. Because this is how we repay the richness we have received from the literature we have absorbed from the time we were young, which changed our perception and revolutionized the way we see something, so we could never see it the old way again. To me, that is one of the hallmarks of great literature: It is the transformation of our perception.”
This reminds me of what poet Aracelis Girmay says in this issue’s Q&A. “We are so lucky any time anybody speaks with their full voice and questions—it’s a gift to humanity,” she says. “Any time anybody carries their complexities and shares how they think, feel through, and try to make sense or undo sense in the world helps us as readers be and imagine more world.” This issue offers similar gifts, in the words of Tiana Clark (31), Imbolo Mbue, Melissa Febos, and others who compose the chorus of voices in these pages. All of them singing: Words still matter.