Friday, March 18, 2011

Phenomenal Woman

"All of the poetry belongs to all of us all of the time," Maya Angelou exclaimed in her booming, baritone voice.

Maya Angelou is the perfect antidote to a crumbling universe and I was so lucky to see her last Weds. at Royce Hall.

She is a poetry pusher - insisting we connect with our librarians to help show us the way. She recited words from Paul Lance Dunbar, Mary Evans, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nikki Giovanni, and William Shakespeare. She said, "Poetry helps us be who we're supposed to be."

The event was supposed to be held in February and I was worried that perhaps she was in ill health when it was pushed to March. Nope. Nothing of the sort. Turns out the date just conflicted with picking up the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Phew! She even brought the medal to show us. At 82, she is still going strong.

Having just taught "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" last semester, I was thrilled when she started talking about her family members, the ones portrayed so vividly in her book. She spoke about being raped at age 7 by her mother's boyfriend, and telling her brother, who told the family and the guy was put away in jail for one night and then beaten to death once he got out. Maya, thinking her voice caused his death, stopped speaking for six years. She was rendered a self-imposed mute.

One day, while sitting in her mom's lap as she braided her hair, Maya's mom said, "One day you're going to be a great teacher," and Maya said, "I used to sit there and think 'you poor, ignorant woman.'

But her mom was right.

A great teacher, poet, singer, woman, human being.

I left the theater feeling exalted.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Open Mic Night

Earlier this evening I had the pleasure of attending an open mic night at the college where I teach. Though I'd announced it to my creative writing class, AND sent them a follow-up reminder email, none of them showed up. I mean, in a way I get it. Friday night, after a long school week...but boy did they miss out.

Open mics are classically full of awkward moments. This was no exception. But it was kind of delicious in those moments. So raw and innocent.

A few graduate student poets stood up and read their work. One even sang a song. I got up and read the first few pages of the novel that keeps getting rejected. In the middle of my reading, I gazed up and saw a sea of new people, first five, then ten, then twenty of them. I started feeling nervous. My voice even quivered as I read.

Two guys went up after me and sang a Ramones song. A girl got up and read a poem she'd written on the car ride home from snowboarding earlier in the day. It was really, really good. Another guy got up and started beat-boxing while his friend free-styled. More poems. More stories.

Then the snowboarder girl got back up and said she loved going to a cafe in Boyle Heights and writing poetry in her free time, and once, as the place was closing for the evening, a bunch of people writing there moved outside and started making up poems - one would start while another took over. She said it was the most amazing experience. She said she'd like to recreate it and invited anyone up to the mic with her. I was intrigued - tempted, even, but in the group were old students and I felt self-conscious. A graduate student finally joined her and together they improved poems - each more magical and brilliant than the next. My jaw was agape. My skin tingled. I knew I was in the presence of art - real art.

Sometimes it's daunting how everyone seems to want to write, but in a world that shakes violently on its own terms and unleashes a fury of tidal waves - insult on top of injury - what's the harm in trying to put one word in front of the other and then arranging it on your own terms until it is good, then better, then best?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.
Sing in the shower.
Dance to the radio.
Tell stories.
Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem.
Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something"

Kurt Vonnegut, “A Man without a Country”