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Read More Poetry: The Maya Angelou Edition

By Leah Dobrinska. Nov 17, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry

We’ve long made a case that the world needs to read more poetry. And we’ve been thrilled to see poetry making its way into mainstream media. If you’ve tuned in to any network television programming lately (the recent Summer Olympics come to mind), you’ve likely heard commercials featuring the poetry of one of the great poets of the twentieth century: Maya Angelou.

Today, we’d like to take a turn spotlighting some of Angelou’s most poignant poetic efforts. The list of her works is a long one, and one that it would be difficult to cover in one blog post. Her work spans several genres, from essays to memoirs to poetry. Angelou has been honored with over fifty honorary degrees, served as an influential civil rights activist, won three spoken word Grammy Awards, and recited an original poem during President Clinton's inauguration in 1993, among countless other accolades. But truly, her poetry speaks for itself. That’s all the more reason we should read it. Let’s start now.

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Awakening in New York

Curtains forcing their will   
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with   
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on   
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a   
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,   
unasked and unheeded.

Phenomenal Woman

Maya_angelou.jpgPretty 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
Phenomenally.
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
Phenomenally.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Alone

Lying, thinking
Last night 
How to find my soul a home 
Where water is not thirsty 
And bread loaf is not stone 
I came up with one thing 
And I don’t believe I’m wrong 
That nobody, 
But nobody 
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone 
Nobody, but nobody 
Can make it out here alone.  

There are some millionaires 
With money they can’t use 
Their wives run round like banshees 
Their children sing the blues 
They’ve got expensive doctors 
To cure their hearts of stone. 
But nobody 
No, nobody 
Can make it out here alone.   

Alone, all alone 
Nobody, but nobody 
Can make it out here alone. 

Now if you listen closely 
I’ll tell you what I know 
Storm clouds are gathering 
The wind is gonna blow 
The race of man is suffering 
And I can hear the moan, 
‘Cause nobody, 
But nobody 
Can make it out here alone.  

Alone, all alone 
Nobody, but nobody 
Can make it out here alone.

Human Family

Angelou-Wouldnt-Take-Nothing.jpgI note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Do you have a favorite Maya Angelou poem? Share it with us in the comment section below.

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Poems courtesy of Poetryfoundation.org, poets.org, and allpoetry.com.

Leah Dobrinska
Writer, editor, and lover of a good sentence, a happy ending, and the smell of books, both old and new. Enjoys reading children's lit to her daughters, home-improvement magazines with her husband, and Shakespeare by herself.

 

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