When I think of revered poets, I tend to picture them in a certain way. Amanda Gorman, however, shattered my preconceptions. In 2017, she made history as the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate and later delivered “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, addressing feminist and racial issues with words that resonate globally.
Intrigued by her impact, I enrolled in Amanda’s MasterClass, “Writing and Performing Poetry,” to explore the wisdom of this prodigious talent. My review seeks to assess how effectively this course brings the ancient art of poetry to the modern world.
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What is Amanda Gorman's MasterClass?
MasterClass is an online education platform that boasts a roster of distinguished instructors, including writers like Margaret Atwood, Joy Harjo, and Billy Collins. Amanda Gorman now joins these ranks, offering her candid exploration of the poetry world. Her MasterClass delves into both the written and spoken traditions of poetry, weaving in her own storytelling journey.
Comprising 16 high-quality video lessons, this course spans approximately three and a half hours, a bit longer than the typical MasterClass. It packs practical techniques for poetry creation, revision, and analysis, all while providing detailed glimpses into the craft through case studies. Additionally, it includes a 44-page workbook, offering a valuable resource for those eager to understand Amanda’s process of writing and performing.
About Amanda Gorman
Amanda S. C. Gorman, a self-declared wordsmith and change-maker, was born on March 7, 1998, and raised in Los Angeles, California. Notably, at the age of 22, she became the youngest person to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration (and only the sixth to do so).
Amanda overcame a childhood speech impediment through her love for reciting poetry. She pursued a degree in sociology and graduated cum laude from Harvard University. Her writing includes The Hill We Climb, Call Us What We Carry, and Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem.
Amanda’s list of accolades is impressive, including:
- A Genius Grant from OZY media
- Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year award
- The Webby awards
- The Poets & Writers Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers award
In her MasterClass, Amanda Gorman shares her knowledge of poetry, acting as the mentor she wished she had.
Inside Amanda Gorman’s MasterClass
Amanda Gorman, despite her lack of formal training, cultivated her poetic skills through an enduring fascination with the art form. In her MasterClass, she generously imparts essential principles of writing and performing poetry, giving students the opportunity to learn how to craft poems from initial brainstorming and research to the final draft and revision.
At the outset of the course, Amanda delves into her influences. You’ll explore the themes and authors that inspire her, as well as the qualities she admires in a writer, which have shaped her own style. She also shares her initial sense of not belonging due to her disability, a perspective that transformed into the belief that poetry, at the heart of it, is accessible to all.
The rest of the course can be divided into three categories: writing poetry, performing poetry, and career-building for a poet.
Amanda emphasizes the importance of reading poetry before writing it, as it helps learners understand rhetorical devices. She shares her process for close reading and offers a toolkit for writing, including tips for overcoming writer’s block. Her research and brainstorming techniques involve gathering information, creating relevant “word clouds,” and stream-of-consciousness writing.
Poetry writing involves the use of rhetorical devices like similes, metaphors, enjambment, personification, alliteration, and more. Amanda encourages learners to apply close reading to their chosen poems in order to gain familiarity with the mechanics. Her approach includes in-depth self-analysis, showing learners how she develops her voice.
According to Amanda, revision is the most challenging aspect of poetry, where research, close reading, and other tools are integrated to refine the work. Students also get the chance to witness a detailed case study on editing and revision as Amanda helps her students finalize their poems.
A significant part of Amanda’s work revolves around spoken word poetry. She imparts the art of preparing and performing poetry for an audience, emphasizing that effective performance is more about communication than memorization.
Amanda, who has performed at a presidential podium in front of the Capitol, shares unconventional insights into her approach—for instance, the use of hand gestures and facial expressions to enhance poems.
In the case study on performance poetry, Amanda discusses and guides her students on the use of body language when reciting aloud. Key takeaways here include managing breath, rhythm, and energy to really bring the poetry to life.
My favorite lessons
Here are some standout lessons from the Amanda Gorman MasterClass that I found particularly interesting:
Close reading poetry
In this lesson, Amanda offers a rare insight into her analytical process. She demonstrates her step-by-step approach to close reading Maya Angelou’s poetry, highlighting how she takes note of and annotates rhetorical devices in the poem. This live analysis of an inaugural poet dissecting another inaugural poem was an exceptional and highly practical experience for me. I found it to be beneficial for my own poetry analysis.
Editing and revising
It’s one thing to analyze a published piece of poetry but to revise an unpolished piece offers a lot of room for learning not only for the author but also for other writers. In this situation, Amanda directly helps a student with the piece they were working on, revealing how words can better match the intended rhythm. Although no words are edited, here, we can see Amanda’s sensibilities toward how the words look on the page and how they can better express the poet’s voice. This sound-to-paper relationship is crucial, especially for poems intended for the spoken word format.
Writing vs. performance
Amanda emphasizes that performance need not rely solely on memorization. The key in spoken word poetry is genuine communication of underlying meanings and emotions in a poem, focusing on conveying intention rather than the exact words. While written work, particularly pieces intended for publication, necessarily undergo the editing phase to present the final words on paper, memorable and more potent performed poetry benefits from prioritizing utterance and staying true to the poet’s voice.
Poetry as a change-maker
Amanda’s MasterClass culminates in a powerful lesson on poetry as a catalyst for change. She motivates learners to infuse purpose into their poetry, using it as a tool to address pressing issues and inspire collective action. This lesson serves as a poignant reminder that poetry holds the extraordinary capacity to influence hearts, minds, and the world at large. Something that might’ve been the case since Homer’s Illiad. Amanda’s motivational closing words are reminiscent of the cliché: the pen is mightier than the sword. Poetry is more than an art form – it’s a vehicle for change.
Benefits of the course
Learning from a young but talented poet
Amanda’s youth and talent bring a fresh and contemporary perspective to the world of poetry. Learners have the unique opportunity to be guided by a rising star, making the course not just informative but also inspiring. Her approach resonates with a younger generation, making poetry more relatable and engaging.
Pragmatic exploration of poetry
Amanda’s course provides a pragmatic approach to poetry. It breaks down the complexities of the art into actionable components, making it accessible to poets of all levels. The emphasis is on the practicality of poetry – although it doesn’t have the same underlying logic as mathematics or science, there are nonetheless mechanics underneath that come into play. This allows learners tangible tools to apply to their own work regardless of experience.
Insightful and detailed case studies
The inclusion of case studies, such as Amanda’s analysis of Maya Angelou’s poetry, her guidance for her students, and close reading of her own poetry and live editing sessions, offers practical insights into the creative process. The reason for this benefit is that it allows learners to see firsthand how to apply poetry analysis and editing techniques, translating theory into practice.
Organized and well-structured courses
Amanda’s MasterClass is highly organized, ensuring that each lesson builds upon the previous one. After she shares a certain theory behind an aspect of writing or performing, she provides relevant case studies that put the theory into practice. The progression through the course material results in a comprehensive and engaging learning experience.
What could be improved?
Lack of interaction
Although Amanda’s MasterClass provides a wealth of knowledge, it primarily follows a one-way teaching model. To improve, it could introduce more opportunities for interaction among learners, peer reviews, or discussions. Fostering a dynamic learning community would allow learners to engage, collaborate, and learn from one another, enriching the education experience.
The target audience for the Amanda Gorman MasterClass is diverse, drawing in people who have no background in poetry and writers from various skill levels. It caters to those who are passionate about the art of poetry and wish to harness their creative voices. This includes budding wordsmiths eager to understand the nuances of crafting verses, spoken word artists seeking to refine their stage presence, and even seasoned poets desiring fresh insights.
Furthermore, it appeals to individuals intrigued by Amanda’s journey from youth laureate to global sensation. Her course not only attracts those who admire her work but also those who want to explore the intersection of poetry and contemporary social issues.
However, corresponding to Amanda’s work, the content is mainly directed towards a more auditory form of poetry and less on imagery. This MasterClass is less suited for audiences looking to gain insights on how to write verses with strong imagery or how their poem looks on paper.
How much does the MasterClass cost?
Annual plans are typically available at $120 a year (or $10 per month) for the Individual plan, providing access to MasterClass courses on one device, $180 a year for the Duo plan (two devices), and $240 a year for the Family plan (six devices).
A MasterClass subscription gives you unlimited access to a catalog of 180+ classes, so if you want to take multiple classes throughout the year, the subscription is definitely worth it, and there are pleny of interesting courses on related topics to explore.
Also, the platform offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so if you’re not happy with your learning experience, you can request a full refund.
Note that if you have a friend or family member who you think would be interested, MasterClass is currently running a Black Friday special offer where you get to gift an annual membership for free to someone if you buy a membership for yourself. Or you could team up so you both effectively get 50% off your membership.
In my view, the Amanda Gorman MasterClass is well worth the investment, especially for poetry enthusiasts and particularly those interested in spoken word. This high-quality course delivers practical insights and comprehensive guidance, which, in today’s world of technological advancements and easy access to performed poetry, makes it even more pertinent.
If you’re seeking an extensive exploration of poetic terminology, Amanda’s coverage, while informative, doesn’t delve deeply into aspects like meter and imagery.
Nonetheless, for individuals keen to explore poetry for performance, better yet, spoken word poetry and speech delivery, Amanda Gorman stands out as a unique and distinctive instructor. Her expertise truly shines in this domain.