Writing

Birthday Note for Dr Maya Angelou

April 4, 2020

[TODAY]⠀

Poet, singer, memoirist, civil rights activist and a central figure in black womxn literature, Dr.Maya Angelou was born on this day, in St. Louis Missouri. ⠀

[REMEMBER]⠀

In 2018, I did some in-depth research on Dr Maya Angelou for, Cryptomnesia, a radio show that is hosted by Dayna and pairs a poet from the past with a poet from the present. ⠀

To prepare for my set, I watched Dr Maya Angelou’s 1987 poetry reading at the Lewisham Theatre in South London. The joy, voices and erotic-power that Angelou exudes is pure excellence, but not of an impossible, overstretching kind but self-cultivated blossoming excellence of fully feeling oneself. Of being deeply rooted in the “endeavours that bring us closest to that fullness” (Lorde, 1984). ⠀

She shares knowledge of lineage across and beyond time from James Weldon Johnson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Nikki Giovanni and many more connecting phrases of 19th-century Black folk songs to blues and back to its roots that is poetry. This is one of the best lectures on Black-American history through poetry and music. ⠀

Poetry to me is speaking through and to voices within my history that are preserving themselves through these sculptures of sound, text, touch and sensory imagery. It is not simply a reading, open-mic, it is not a book, an achievement, a product, an end-game, an opportunity – it is survival and Dr.Maya Angelou is an embodiment of this. ⠀

[DR. MAYA ANGELOU]⠀

“𝚆𝚎 𝚕𝚒𝚟𝚎 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚍𝚒𝚛𝚎𝚌𝚝 𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚕𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗 𝚘𝚏 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚘𝚜 and 𝚜𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚘𝚜 𝚠𝚎 𝚑𝚊𝚟𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎 𝚊𝚝 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎 𝚙𝚕𝚊𝚌𝚎 𝚒𝚗𝚜𝚒𝚍𝚎 𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚑𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚜 𝚠𝚎 𝚑𝚊𝚟𝚎 𝚝𝚘 𝚜𝚊𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗𝚔 𝚢𝚘𝚞. 𝙸 𝚍𝚘𝚗’𝚝 𝚔𝚗𝚘𝚠 𝚊𝚋𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚢𝚘𝚞 , 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝙸 𝚠𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍𝚗’𝚝 𝚋𝚎 𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚑𝚊𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚎 𝚙𝚎𝚘𝚙𝚕𝚎 𝚗𝚘𝚝 𝚋𝚎𝚎𝚗 𝚜𝚞𝚌𝚌𝚎𝚜𝚜𝚏𝚞𝚕 𝚒𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚑𝚞𝚖𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚎𝚖𝚙𝚕𝚘𝚢𝚖𝚎𝚗𝚝 𝚘𝚏 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚎 𝚑𝚞𝚖𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚙𝚕𝚘𝚢𝚜, 𝚜𝚘 , 𝙸 𝚑𝚘𝚗𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚖 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚒𝚗 𝚑𝚘𝚗𝚘𝚞𝚛𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚖 𝙸 𝚑𝚘𝚗𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚘𝚞𝚛 𝚊𝚌𝚎𝚜𝚝𝚘𝚛𝚜 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚘 𝚜𝚝𝚊𝚢 𝚊𝚕𝚒𝚟𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚋𝚎 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚋𝚘𝚍𝚢 𝚜𝚘 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚠𝚎 𝚌𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍 𝚋𝚎 𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚗𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚛𝚢 𝚝𝚘 𝚊𝚌𝚌𝚎𝚙𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚠𝚎 𝚑𝚊𝚟𝚎 𝚋𝚎𝚎𝚗 𝚕𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚍 𝚎𝚊𝚌𝚑 𝚘𝚏 𝚞𝚜 𝚖𝚊𝚢𝚋𝚎 𝚋𝚢 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚋𝚘𝚍𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚛𝚎𝚎 𝚐𝚎𝚗𝚎𝚛𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚜 𝚊𝚐𝚘 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚗𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚛 𝚎𝚟𝚎𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚐𝚑𝚝 𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚗𝚊𝚖𝚎 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚠𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚛𝚢, 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚙𝚊𝚒𝚍 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚊𝚕𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚍𝚢…”

( 𝙼𝚊𝚢𝚊 𝙰𝚗𝚐𝚎𝚕𝚘𝚞, 𝙻𝚒𝚟𝚎 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚄𝚗𝚙𝚕𝚞𝚐𝚐𝚎𝚍 1987)

Masks -Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts . . .
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing . . .
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So . . . I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh . . .
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.
My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

(Maya Angelou adapted the 1896 poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask,” in the following spoken-word poem)

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