It never occurred to me while watching Amanda Gorman deliver her stirring inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb” on January 20 that her last name is an anagram for Morgan – as in “J.P. Morgan.” But then, it never occurred to me while thinking shortly thereafter about inviting her to write and deliver a commemorative poem for the CNS 50th Anniversary Meeting in Boston that wondering what she charges would prompt the oft-quoted line attributed to Morgan, the Jeff Bezos of his day: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
I should have had the good sense to ask before writing the following proposal what Ms. Gorman’s booking agent charges. Alas, I didn’t. When told “$125,000 for virtual presentation, double in-person,” I immediately moved on. Ah, well. It would have been fun and inspiring…for both her and us.
In lieu of hearing the gifted poet and future President read in Boston I will leave you with a letter she no doubt did not, and will not ever read:
Dear Ms. Gorman:
I am writing to you with a proposed commission that not only speaks to your creative spirit, appeals to your activist impulses, and calls out for your prophetic voice, but may also move you one step further along a path I both hope and believe will bring you back to the Capitol steps, this time to take an oath of office following the reading of a poem, rather than the inverse.
Your presence and performance at the 2021 Inauguration made history and made you famous. My proposal gives you the chance to use that newfound fame to re-envision and re-shape history. A large claim, I know, but no larger, grander or more far-fetched than your Presidential ambitions. So, read on and then tell me if, from the hill you have just climbed, you don’t see the same possibilities…and more.
What I am offering is an opportunity this coming fall to elaborate and expand upon “The Hill We Climb,” a chance to re-envision and re-present a more diverse and inclusive version of America as a “City upon a Hill.” The Child Neurology Society will hold its 50th/Golden Anniversary Meeting this fall in Boston – the “City upon a Hill” to which John Winthrop sailed in 1630 when he wrote what became “the most famous lay sermon in American History.” We would be honored if you would be willing to write a commemorative poem and perform it for us in Boston in celebration of that milestone.
I don’t know if you know any child neurologists. You would like and admire them and would readily relate to them. Child neurologists are a relatively small, remarkably gifted and compassionate cohort of specialists whose calling in life is to care for and find a cure for the 1-in-5 children of all races, ethnicities, gender, and orientations whose chances of fully realizing “the Possibilities of Life in America” – of growing up to become fully valued and celebrated citizens of that City upon a Hill – are limited, inflected, deflected or dismissed due to a wide range of neurologic disorders and disabilities. (See the 2020 CNS Statement against racism: https://conta.cc/2AZ1972).
When I watched and listened to you on January 20, I was enthralled, as everyone I know was. And still is. In my privileged position as Executive Director of the CNS, I saw that day a seed of even greater possibility, one that no one else would have or could have. I had to wait to share this with you until it became more certain that COVID would not cancel this year’s CNS meeting in Boston, forcing us into virtual mode for our 50th Annual Meeting. The waiting is over. We’re going to Boston. And we want you to be our honored guest.
Here is my proposal:
The Child Neurology Society (CNS) requests you write and perform in person a commemorative poem honoring the 50th/Golden Anniversary of the CNS at its annual meeting to be held September 29-October 2 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
We invite you to collaborate with a jazz ensemble made up of faculty members from the Berklee School of Music in putting your commissioned poem or other work to music. The CNS President, Dr. Phillip Pearl, from Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, is a gifted keyboard artist and faculty member at the Berklee School of Music. Together with Dr. David Urion, also from BCH/Harvard, he and an ensemble made up of Berklee Music faculty recorded a 9-part series of poetry and music for last year’s joint virtual meeting with the International Child Neurology Association: “American Creativity, Ingenuity, and Diversity”. Members of this ensemble will also be performing at one or more of the meeting receptions and would be honored to collaborate with you in composing and debuting a new work. Here is a link to the first video from 2020: https://vimeo.com/463608283
The CNS would like to invite you back to read a poem in the fall of 2036, and to also address those gathered for the 65th Annual CNS Meeting as a candidate for President of the United States. I can’t promise the 65th meeting will be in Boston, having long since retired and turned 82, but if you promise to come, I promise to be there to renew our acquaintance and reminisce about the first time we met, in 2021. I am willing to bet that there will be more than one CNS member attending in 2036 who decided to become a child neurologist after reading the poem or seeing a video of you read that poem in the City upon a Hill years earlier, back when they were mere children dreaming about the hills they might climb, the lives they might lead, the persons they might become.
The stars are aligned in a way we may never see again. No other person, at no other time, on no other occasion, and in no other city could fulfill this commission as you can. Having so memorably climbed one mythic-metaphorical hill, you have a chance now to meet us atop another and, in so doing, revise and revitalize “the Possibilities of Life in America” for current and future generations of children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, orientation…or neurologic capacity or incapacity.
Please join the CNS in Boston this fall to help us honor and celebrate our 50th Anniversary.
Roger Larson, CAE
Child Neurology Society