- Dr Maya Angelouby Debbie D'Arcy
This work has reached the exceptional level
Phenomenal Woman
Dr Maya Angelou by Debbie D'Arcy

At tender age, this child would feel the weight of guilt and shame
when she was raped by mother's friend, a man whom she would name.
But worse to come, her culprit killed, her shock drowned out her tears
and, caged within her trauma, she was mute for four long years.
Believing that the blame was hers - her voice had struck him dead -
she dared not speak another word, encased within instead.
She'd find her peace in love of books, not uttering a sound,
escaping in her silent realm to watch the world around.
Her saviour was a teacher who befriended and avowed:
her poetry would never chime until she versed out loud.
And this would open up the door to Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe,
a new beginning, unafraid, for art to bloom and grow.
But first this fledgeling bird must fly, embrace the joy life brings,
with spirit and ambition, she would learn to spread her wings;
for dance invoked her rhythmic roots, impassioned path of truth,
arousing sensuality, dispelling ghosts of youth.
She revelled in her sassiness, gyrated to her beat,
her enigmatic myst'ry luring suitors to her feet!*
Her touring and exploring saw her glory come of age,
in writing and performing she adorned her centre stage.
And this was her defiance, a black ocean leaping high,
a welling, swelling energy borne fearless on the tide.*
And with this revelation she would find the strength inside
to fight against oppression with new vigour amplified.
Returning home from lands afar, intent to seek, redeem
true justice for her ancestors, united with King's* dream.
She used her anger as a force of duty to commit -
you paint it, dance it, vote it, never stop expressing it.*
And, mid success in film and show, she  wrote inspiringly,
with power, born of facing foe, she urges to be free:
resist the chains of slavery, still present from the past,
and celebrate in sisterhood a voice to share at last.
In stirring speech for Clinton's launch, she praises a new dawn,
to stand upon the rock of age and sculpt the advent morn.
Though hist'ry cannot be undone, horizons bid us change,
to shun the brutal yoke of fear, bring hope within our range.
A whirlwind of majestic might, unbroken, ever strong,
she soared in joy and honesty, then shared her heart in song.
And, though her journey was beset by "bitter twisted lies,"
her soul remains invincible, like life, she sings, "I'll rise."


Author Notes
Image: courtesy of Google free pics. Information source: Wikipedia and other biographical sources; particular thanks to Heather Knight (Maria), whose beautiful verse, Garden-Variety Bard, introduced me to Maya and inspired me to write this. Please also note, Nomi's currently revived sweet tribute: Free at Last.

This phenomenal woman bears remarkable similarities to Audre Lorde (my previous post): both suffered a lengthy childhood struggle to communicate, finding literature their sanctuary and salvation; both used their learning and strength from this struggle to set them on a path of empowerment and self-belief, not only for themselves but for all of us.

Stanza 1-2: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (autobiography 1969, TV movie 1979); Caged Bird (poem 1983)
Born 1928 in St Louis, Missouri, the younger of two children, her early childhood was scarred, firstly by her parents' calamitous marriage, then, at the age of 7, by a sexual assault on her by her mother's boyfriend. When this rapist was subsequently murdered, shortly after his release from a one day sentence, Angelou blamed herself, believing that her voice had effectively killed him.

Stanza 3: At the age of 8, shortly after the murder, she was sent to live with her grandmother. During her schooling, her teacher, Mrs Flowers, challenged her to recite her poetry out loud. Among other authors, she introduced her to black female artists: Frances Harper, Anne Spencer and Jessie Faucet.

Stanza 4: During the early 50s she was married briefly and had a son, Guy (her only biological child). She started to immerse herself in dance and singing, particularly drawn to Caribbean Calypso music, its rhythms tracing back to West Africa.

Stanza 5: Still I Rise (1978 A celebration of her power and resilience as a woman); Phenomenal Woman (1978).
Though she didn't have the stereotypical model figure, she knew she had the inner mystique that all women have that potentially mystifies men, turning heads in a room.
She toured 22 countries in Europe and Africa in the Gerschwin folk opera, Porgy and Bess as well as in other acting roles and working as a journalist.

Stanza 6: *The black ocean represents both the speaker and the many black women like her who were claiming their joy and power in 1980s America (Still I Rise)

Stanza 7: *Martin Luther King Jnr.
She returned to the US in 1965 to help Malcolm X, a close friend, build a new civil rights organisation. He was assassinated shortly afterwards. Maya was left devastated and adrift. This depression was intensified when, in 1968, MLK asked her to organise a march. She postponed and then he, too, was assassinated in a bizarre twist, on Maya's 40th birthday. She wrote, produced and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black! a triumph of Civil Rights-era public affairs TV aired amid nationwide uprisings in the wake of his killing.
"You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like a cancer.."

Stanza 8: Our Grandmothers (1992) Honouring black female identity with the repeated line "I shall not be moved," this poem powerfully advocates faith and hope as central to this celebration of defiance against a history of slavery and oppression.

Stanza 9: On the Pulse of the Morning (1993 Composed and delivered for Bill Clinton's inauguration.
She also paid a stirring tribute to Nelson Mandela on his death in 2013 "His Day is Done."
"No sun outlives its sunset but it will rise again and bring the dawn."

Stanza 10: Poet, singer, memoirist, civil rights activist, she died in 2014 at the age of 86. She was hailed as one of the first African American women, able publicly to discuss their personal life. She wrote about blackness from the inside, without apology or defence. And was, without doubt, "a major autobiographical voice of the time." Her work (7 autobiographies, 3 books of essays, several books of poetry, a list of plays, movies and TV shoes spanning over 50 years), literally, was her life.


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