Thursday, 29 December 2011

Maya Angelou

I've mentioned before that my favourite poem in English is Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise". This year, while teaching 19th & 20th Century American Poetry I got to spend some time with Angelou's work again. The poem that my students seemed to like the most (based on the amount of essays that focussed on it) is the poem "Africa." It is quite a striking poem in which the African continent is anthropomorphised as a beautiful woman who is metaphorically ravaged by colonialists, who also "took her young daughters / sold her strong sons / churched her with Jesus / [and] bled her with guns". The poem ends with the woman "rising", "although she has lain" and "now . . . striding", suggesting that she refuse to submit and give up hope, but instead rise above her oppression and adversary. Like "Still I Rise" the poem shows the victim rising above her situation. The poem that really stood out for me this time, however, was "Phenomenal Woman". It might be because many people have asked me in recent months about my ideal woman, and while ideally a good figure does score some points, it is more her confidence in herself--her at homeness in her body--that makes a woman sexy. The poem "Phenomenal Woman" really captures this.

I just now saw this interpretation of Oprah Winfrey of "Phenomenal Woman" and "Still I Rise". Phenomenal! In the YouTube video below, Oprah starts to speak at 2:45 and begins with the excellent performance of parts of the two poems at 3:30.

The Canadian actress/singer Amy Sky did a pretty good job of putting "Phenomenal Woman" to music.

It is difficult to speak about Maya Angelou and not mention her poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". Do read it. It is beautiful.

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