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.


Daniela said...

what a beautiful entry.
i love this poem

i also miss Royce Hall!!!

Elisabeth said...

Phenomenal woman indeed. I'm a fan of Maya Angelou, too. I read her entire memoir series may years ago here in Australia and the writing stays with me. It's good to meet you here, I'm here via the revenge is the best writing site. Pleased to meet you.

Melissa Clark said...

Nice to hear from you two, Daniela and Elisabeth!

Anonymous said...

great post! this poem should be in high school classes everywhere.