as the caged bird sings

18 Sept 16 — messy messy non-desk desk. 2 weeks and I’ll be back in Cambridge after a stupid number of months off for summer. !!! Currently reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and couldn’t recommend it more; I’m underlining and annotating like a possessed Lit student.

Maya Angelou

Text from Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen

Many consider Maya Angelou (1928–2014) a U.S. national treasure. A writer, activist, filmmaker, actor, and lecturer well into her eighties, Angelou transcended her humble upbringing in deeply racist Arkansas to create a vast body of work that helped to change the landscape of American culture. After a traumatic childhood event that she would later chronicle in her game-changing memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou became extraordinarily gifted in arts and literature and earned a scholarship to a San Francisco high school. As a teen, she became the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She became a mom at sixteen and married a Greek aspiring musician, flouting the existing laws forbidding interracial marriage. Angelou studied dance with legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey and became a staple on the calypso music and dance scene as a performer. She also toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. After meeting novelist John Oliver Killens in 1959, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and published her first written work. She became a civil rights activist and worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Angelou would go on to write thirty-six books, earning the honor of both being on the banned books list and holding the record for the longest-running nonfiction book on The New York Times’ bestseller list.

In addition to roles in producing, writing, and directing film and television, Angelou became the first African-American woman to pen a screenplay that was actually made into a film, the Pulitzer Prize–nominated Georgia, Georgia. She won three Grammys for her spoken word albums, served on two presidential committees, and became the first female poet to compose and recite a poem for a presidential inauguration (President  Bill Clinton’s in 1993). Showered with accolades at the end of her life, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2010. Angelou was fittingly recognized in her lifetime for her work that opened America’s hearts and minds.

if Shakespeare had written you, you’d be Juliet
with fair features and soft hands,
this whole world would love you like their own
Maya Angelou could write you stronger
she’d pick you up and set you free
you’ve always been a caged bird, and caged birds need to sing
Edgar Allen Poe would write you darker
he’d give you pale hands and veins so dark they’d be rivers
he’d make you a Dream Within a Dream; with blue eyes deeper than his City in the Sea
if Walt Whitman had written you, you’d be green
green with envy, green, like the Leaves of Grass in the sun
your heart would beat Drum-Taps and your very flesh would be a poem
Robert Browning would have written you with a whisper of confession
he would have written you with love, hope, fear, faith
you would have been his humanity
if Natalie Diaz wrote you she’d probably make you wild
she’d write you, babydoll eyes and bubble gum cheeks
you’d be her journal of metaphors and her box of hyperboles
Robert Frost would have made you burning
you’d be fire dipped gold and ice covered isolation
a beautiful mix of rock, water, bone
and everything else a mountain is made of

but you wrote yourself hidden
buried yourself in the constellations and drowned yourself in grey moon reflections
you wrote yourself simply, when all these poets I’ve ever studied would have made you a masterpiece

—  C.P. || All These Poets