Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Caged Bird Has Flown

Maya Angelou pauses while reading a poem for Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008.
Mays Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014)

So sad to hear of Mays Angelou's passing. She had to cancel an event, Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game where she was the honoree. It did cross my mind when I read the news. Bottom of the ninth. I was mentally holding vigil. Her heart may have failed her but it never failed us.

"An unexpected medical emergency caused me the greatest disappointment of having to cancel my visit to the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game ceremony. I am so proud to be selected as its honoree. However, my doctors told me it would be unadvisable for me to travel at that time. My thanks to Robin Roberts for speaking up for me and thank you for all your prayers. I am each day better." —Maya Angelou, May 26

Statement from Dr. Maya Angelou’s Family:
"Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love." —Guy B. Johnson
"The world has lost a great voice today. A self-taught master of the written word, Angelou also spoke no less than six languages. A traumatic and violent childhood, marked by years of silence, led to a blossoming of her artistry and her gifts. She was a champion for civil rights and justice, and on the inner circle with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2011 she received our nation's civilian highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. We know now why the caged bird sings, and we release her spirit today back to the starry heavens. May your light shine ever on, Maya Angelou" —George Takai
I remember Maya telling me that she was a fan dancer at the Hungry I and at the Purple Onion in North Beach. That the act of writing was a catharsis after hours of mind-numbing dancing in those bawdy skin joints.

My mother was also a North Beach habituee and I remember thinking they must've known each other—same Beat crowd. Women were merely tolerated by the Beats. Solidarity in sisterhood.

If I recall correctly, Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings while she was living in the town of Sonoma.

Anyway, I read Caged Bird when I was young, for a women's studies class, ca. 1971—long before it was considered an American classic. Our College of Marin teachers were pretty radical. We also met Margo St. James and other sex workers from Coyote. Maya was not as unschooled as she would lead you to believe. But she was largely self-taught, and world-wise.

Maya Angelou was always very supportive of our local poetry events. I once read with her and her son Guy Johnson, for Herman Berlandt's National Poetry Week.(I've B&W negatives somewhere.)

Maya was always kind, always gracious, and very direct. I'll never forget when she and Lucille Clifton swapped bawdy tales on the vagaries of aging as we were waiting in the wings to read. I guess that was the origin of her poem, Phenomenal Woman from Still I Rise (1978). And so she was.

As our California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said:
"You were always unbound, and you could see beyond—let's call it love, that is why the caged bird sings—in memory, in presence, Maya Angelou."

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

Maya Angelou

Just make sure she gets that good long cool drink of water. OK?

Maya Angelou Recites Her Poem “Phenomenal Woman”


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
    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.

    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
    Phenomenally.
    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 for my care.
    ’Cause I’m a woman
    Phenomenally.
    Phenomenal woman,
    That’s me.

And Still I Rise 1978

Still I rise - Dr. Maya Angelou YouTube

Compared To What The song was recorded in 1969 by pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris for their album, Swiss Movement, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival... youtube.com


Maya Angelou at Poem Hunter (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) an American author and poet who has been called "America's most visible black female autobiographer" by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly acclaimed, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her first seventeen years. It brought her international recognition, and was nominated for a National Book Award. She has been awarded over 30 honorary degrees and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie.

More poems at Poem Hunter

When Maya read On the Pulse of Morning at the Clinton inauguration, her rising star skyrocketed her to fame. The poem, packaged in a slender chapbook, sold millions. 

Maya Angelou reciting her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the 1993 Presidential Inaugural. This footage is official public record produced by the White House Television (WHTV) crew, provided by the Clinton Presidential Library.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 1969 "In this first of five volumes of autobiography, poet Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence. Sent at a young age to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, Angelou learned a great deal from this exceptional woman and the tightly knit black community there. These very lessons carried her throughout the hardships she endured later in life, including a tragic occurrence while visiting her mother in St. Louis and her formative years spent in California--where an unwanted pregnancy changed her life forever. Marvelously told, with Angelou's "gift for language and observation," this "remarkable autobiography by an equally remarkable black woman from Arkansas captures, indelibly, a world of which most Americans are shamefully ignorant."

Maya Angelou, renaissance woman, dies PBS
Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist And Singular Storyteller, Dies At 86 NPR
Poet Maya Angelou, 86, has died SCPR
Maya Angelou dead at 86 MYFOXNY
RIP Maya Angelou, who died today at the age of 86. Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou at the 2013 National Book Awards Dinner and Ceremony on November 20, 2013 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Photo by Robin Platzer/ Twin Images.
How Maya Angelou Became San Francisco's First Black Streetcar Conductor At Age 16 (VIDEO)
One of the Most Beautiful Stanzas Maya Angelou Wrote Is About What Happens When Great Souls Die slate.com

posted/rev 2/2015

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