More to Say

Imagine how it would be
If you were discriminated against
Without a chance to show your inner self,
Without a chance to speak up.
That was my life for a long time
It hurt then.
The discrimination still goes on
It hurts now.
But I decided that I have more to say
Then you might want to listen.

Amy Sequenzia, My Voice, My Life

April has the dual honor of being both National Poetry Month and Autism Acceptance month. Overall, we will be focusing on poets this month, but I thought it would be lovely to kick it off with a spotlight on an autistic poet! Continue reading “More to Say”

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“Phenomenal Woman”

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size…
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

–Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”

“Does my sexiness upset you?”

–Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Tonight, I’m looking forward to honoring a poet from my hometown. St. Louis has been home to several poets, most notably Angelou and T.S. Eliot, and two US Poet Laureates. I’m a pretty big fan of Eliot myself, but there’s something about Angelou that resonates in a very different way.

After a several year period of silence in her childhood, triggered by serious trauma, Angelou opened her mouth and didn’t bother to shut it again. She got loud, though not in volume. She became strong and firm and unwilling to have her voice silenced. She spoke up for civil rights, for women, for people and causes that weren’t necessarily popular.

So who is Maya Angelou to me? What makes her rise through the ranks to come out among the handful of American authors we’re talking about this month?

Quite simply, Angelou’s brazenness inspires me. Her self-confidence defies those who would denounce her. She’s not in this game to impress you. She’s here to show you beauty and strength and wit, all wrapped in a woman’s curves.

Angelou is the confidence that the chubby girl in your gym class needs. She’s the femininity that raises up the girl with a Frida Kahlo unibrow. She’s the one telling us that girls don’t have to be skinny to be sexy. She’s a woman, and don’t you challenge her femininity.

There is a trend that, whether we consciously recognize it or not, is fueling feminine insecurity. There is something that tells us that to be a woman is to always comment on a friend’s weight loss (even if it’s half an ounce) or to mention that new diet fad. There is something that says, “To be a woman is to be small, quiet, unnoticed except for in the slenderness of your being.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with short girls. Or with introverted or otherwise quiet girls. Or with slender girls. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be the center of attention.

But what Angelou does is offer the woman–be she seven or seventy–the opportunity to defy those standards. Angelou gives us permission to be tall or wide or loud. Or all three. She is one of those women who looks at society’s standards and says firmly, “Does my sexiness upset you?” She gives permission to the supposedly unpretty girls, those of us who won’t ever be in a fashion magazine. We can be sexy. We can be beautiful and opinionated and strong. And none of those characteristics make us unfeminine.

Maya Angelou opens the door for us to challenge a world that doesn’t want us. She shows us how to make a world of our own. She doesn’t change the world by her words. She disregards its standards and asks if it cares to join her in a different paradigm. If not, let the world burn. But Angelou will just keep on being her strong, beautiful self, lifting up the women climbing behind her. May her legacy continue to strengthen the insecure and give us hope. She was, quite truly, a phenomenal woman.

Let America Be America Again

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

–Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again

The entire text of the poem can be found at the Academy of American Poets.

NB: This post was planned prior to the heartbreaking deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Upon reflection, I decided not to address current events, but to move ahead with my plans for the post anyway–other people are far more qualified and have more right to comment upon these events, and I am qualified to comment upon literature. 

American poetry is the poetry of the oppressed.

The Idea of America–the Form, if you will allow me some Plato–is a place for the oppressed. A place where they cease to be oppressed and stand on their own two feet, where any man or woman can be free.

Sadly, the Idea of America is not the reality.

Enter the poet.

The American poet sees the American Idea and recognizes that it is not reality. He (or she, though I will use the masculine pronoun since this post was inspired by Langston Hughes) is not content to simply admire the dream; he must call out those who have failed the dream. He must bring our attention to the flaws.

The American poet cannot simply let things be.

This presents a problem: the poet is a gadfly, and discomforts those who would rather remain blind and deaf to oppression and reality. They do not want to listen. The poet–and the oppressed for whom he speaks–refuse to be silenced.

The poet of necessity is a polarizing influence in a nation that desperately needs to be united. But this is not the poet’s fault; he brings to the surface the already-existing wounds because this is the only way for the wounds to be healed. The nation was never completely united in the first place.

America has not yet been America yet. But the poet dares to dream that it might yet be.

  • Recommended Reading:
    • Maya Angelou
    • Emily Dickinson
    • Allen Ginsberg
    • T.S. Eliot
    • William Carlos Williams
    • Shel Silverstein
    • Phyllis Wheatley
    • Mary Oliver