The gift outright

Her fears of political violence notwithstanding, the only shot heard during Amanda Gorman’s performance was her book shooting to the top spot on the USA Today bestseller list, the first time a book of poetry had appeared in that position — No. 1 with a bullet, as they used to say on the radio. Poets are not usually reporters, but one might wonder a little about whether Gorman has seen very much of the country she writes about, whether she understands, among other things, how anxious its most powerful men and women are to see talented young people such as herself succeed. It is a different story than the one she imagines. She did not end up at Harvard by accident — Michael Milken has always had an eye for a good investment. She did not end up at the inauguration or on the best-seller list by accident, either. What threatens poets such as her is not bullets or oppression or hatred but success, too much familiarity with power and status, and too much ease with them. The danger is not that she gets gunned down on the mean streets of Cambridge, Mass., in front of Senator Warren’s house, but that she gets a MacArthur grant and a visiting professorship, spends her time writing insipid comic books, or joins the board of Facebook.

That is how Americans dispose of our poets, when we notice them at all.