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Poets, Politics, (and Economics)

There was the Joe Biden's inauguration as the new USA president this week. Amanda Gorman won her spotlight with her poem: The hill we climb. I listened to it thousand times. Yes! Poetry is what the world needs right now.

"When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it"

Amanda Gorman reminds me the power of poetry. Joe Biden was the fourth presidents who had poets in inaugural ceremony after John F. Kennedy (1961), Bill Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013). After listening to them all, "On the Pulse of Morning" is my favorite.

In Vietnam, poetry was also used to unite the nation. Vietnamese people learnt by heart Lý Thường Kiệt's Nam quốc sơn hà (Mountains and Rivers of the Southern Country) as the symbol of indepence from the North:

Nam quốc sơn hà nam đế cư

Tiệt nhiên định phận tại thiên thư Như hà nghịch lỗ lai xâm phạm Nhữ đẳng hành khan thủ bại hư

"Translated: The mountains and rivers that carved the southern empire, dwelled by the Southern Emperor.

Its sovereignty is of nature's will and is allotted in script from the heaven. What gives these invaders the right to trespass it, They shall, in doing that, see themselves be defeated and shamed"

In this digital age, one could question the need of poetry. To me, there is no computer program can beat a rightful poem in rhetoric. Amanda Gorman has done a fantastic job confirming the role of poetry in chaotic times.

Maybe a poem won't literally pass legislation or deflect a bullet from exploding in my Black body, but a poem is what makes our hearts move. It does make people think, reflect, and it can even lead to empathy. We need that. That quality of light where hopes and dreams can live is what this country needs, and you can count on the artists to keep fueling all of our movements for liberation (Ashley M. Jones)

As an aspiring teacher, I also curious with the use of poetry in (economics) teaching. Poetry is known as a mnemonic device in Math lessons. I still remember the poem on trapezoid at high-school:

Muốn tính diện tích hình thang

Đáy lớn, đáy nhỏ ta mang cộng vào

Rồi đem nhân với đường cao

Chia đôi kết quả thế nào cũng ra

(Translated: If you want to calculate the area of a trapezoid

We bring larger base plus smaller base

Then multiply it by the heigh

Divide by two we've got the results)

Mary Davis in Tufts University had an experiment that assigned graduate students to write proses for economics class. Here is one poem on diminishing rate of return by Betsy Byrum

On weekend mornings and without delay

I make some coffee to jump-start my day

The first cup’s delicious – fragrant and hot

It helps wake me up and def hits the spot

I have a second, it quenches my thirst

But’s not as satisfying as the first I drink a third cuz it’s there in the pot It’s good but makes my stomach hurt a lot

The quantitative impact of poetry on student scores is not available yet. Students, however, reports spending longer for economics assignment. Long-term retention and overall student experience are the two positive outcomes of this experiment. To first year students in Vietnam university, I don't think poetry is a suitable learning/teaching tool yet. This approach may work well in liberal arts system. We shall wait and see whether Fulbright University adopts creative poetry in economics. Till now, let us appreciate the beauty and power of words and poetry with Maya Angelou


  1. The Week (2021), From Kennedy to Biden: The tradition of the inaugural poet,

  2. Jones, A. (2021), Amanda Gorman reminded America what poetry can do,

  3. Davis, M. (2019), The Poetry of Economics,

  4. Davis, M. (2019), Poetry and economics: Creativity, engagement and learning in the economics classroom, International Review of Economics Education.

  5. Davis, M. (2015), Bringing imagination back to the classroom: A model for creative arts in economics, International Review of Economics Education.

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