MAYA ANGELOU

Her PC credentials are beyond reproach. She carries herself with the dignity of a well-paid academic celebrity. She speaks

in a serious

expressive

 

tone and

 

a

 

deliberate,

meaningful

cadence.

She’s the go-to poet for presidential inaugurations, Kennedy Center galas, and other large, well-funded events where the content or artistic value of a poem is irrelevant, but having heard of the poet is. She’s the Paul Shaffer of poetry. (“Guys! We’ve got a televised all-star band tribute to a famous rock star. Make sure Paul Shaffer is available!”) She might be a very nice lady too. And yet Maya Angelou’s poetry is uniformly, strikingly, fascinatingly terrible. Try reading one of her poems. We dare you. Just hearing the first stanza makes us tremble with dread: flashbacks to graduation ceremonies in the blazing sun, or an endless outdoor theater festival we made the mistake of attending.

Okay, you say, it’s her delivery that makes her poetry so “powerful.” Poetry is an oral tradition, you say. That is true. But also true: her pretentious delivery makes her pedestrian verse ten times worse. (Hey, that rhymes!) If you want to actually enjoy a Maya Angelou-style poem, you need to imagine her writing and reciting a Froot Loops commercial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPrwX-O7IM0&NR=1

Now that is brilliant.

The bottom line on Maya Angelou is that she’s symptomatic of what’s wrong with modern poetry in general. It’s controlled by an overly cerebral, politically correct academic establishment. It serves as a meta-comment on what poetry is supposed to be, rather than standing on its own as an art form. And it anoints a select few, like Angelou, to serve as bland ambassadors for something that really shouldn’t have ambassadors. Poetry may be in trouble as an art form, but trotting out the likes of Maya Angelou to grimly bear the cross doesn’t help matters.

31 Responses to “MAYA ANGELOU”

  1. Jesse

    She’s pretentious, contrived and vastly overrated. And how many autobiographies does one need to write?!

    Reply
    • Glenn

      Why does she deserve any more respect than anyone else? Because she’s black?

      Reply
  2. Verisimilitude

    I knew that I could not be the only person on the planet to feel this way about Angelou’s poetry. What a relief. I have not read her ‘Caged Bird’ autobiography so I cannot comment regarding her craftsmanship when it comes to prose, but — oh, heaven help us — the poems and her alleged “words of wisdom”! Years and years of auspicious poems trundled-out to us, and all of them strike me as banal, vapid and worthy of the musings of an oversensitive first-year sorority girl, at best. I almost feel as if I’m going to be struck by lightning for saying such a thing; Angelou has indeed been propped-up and canonized to such an astonishing degree. I have to giggle when I come across someone on social media who has quoted her on topics like love or friendship. “Friendship is like the flypaper of the soul. True hearts buzz around and get stuck to you forever.” That is not one of her actual quotes, but that pretty much captures the tenor and general incoherence of her quips, in my experience. Bafflingly awful. The voice/delivery is such an affectation, too, I fear. But it has fooled a lot of people into thinking she has more gravitas than God. I have a feeling she is a very nice lady. I hope so. My gosh, the Obama inauguration poem was bad enough to curl your hair. Bless her heart.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I’ve had to endure the likes of a white, feminist boss, who are among those who’ve overrated Ms Angelou to the point I felt like I’d be struck by lightening if I dared to say ‘but she’s crap!’

    Reply
  4. Connie Bryson

    Saturday, March 29, 2008
    Ain’t We Overrated?

    It’s a real challenge to parody a poem that’s so bad, it’s already a parody. I penned this as a tribute to celebrated poet (?) Maya Angelou a few years ago, and I’m posting it again in honor of her upcoming eightieth birthday.

    Ain’t That Bad? (after Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name)

    Dancin’ the funky chicken
    Eatin’ ribs and tips
    Diggin’ all the latest sounds
    Drinkin’ gin in sips

    Dancin’ the Beer Barrel Polka
    Eatin’ Kielbasi and kraut
    Diggin’ that funky accordian
    Lettin’ it all hang out

    Puttin’ down that do-rag
    Tighten’ up my ‘fro
    Wrappin’ up in Blackness
    Don’t I shine and glow?

    Puttin’ down that hairnet
    Loosenin’ my bun
    Wavin’ my babushka
    Ain’t I havin’ fun?

    Hearin’ Stevie Wonder
    Cookin’ beans and rice
    Goin’ to the opera
    Checkin’ out Leontyne Price

    Hearin’ Frankie Yankovic
    Fixin’ some knishes
    List’nin’ to Liberace
    While I dry the dishes

    Get down, Jesse Jackson
    Dance on, Albert Ailey
    Talk, Miss Barbara Jordan
    Groove, Miss Pearlie Bailey

    Get down, Lech Walesa
    Z. Brzezinski, too
    Write, Joseph Conrad
    (CONRAD? Heck, who knew?)

    Now ain’t they bad?
    An’ ain’t they Black?
    An’ ain’t they Black?
    An’ ain’t they bad?
    An’ ain’t they Black?
    An’ ain’t they fine?

    Now ain’t they bad?
    An’ ain’t they Polish?
    An’ ain’t they Polish?
    An’ ain’t they bad?
    And ain’t they bad?
    An’ ain’t they Polish?
    An’ ain’t they fine?

    Black like the hour of the night
    When your love turns and wriggles close to your side
    Black as the earth which has given birth
    To nations, and when all else is gone will abide.

    Pink like the first blush of morning
    When the sun comes up and turns darkness into day
    Pink like a cervix when it’s giving birth
    And a layette when a baby girl is on the way

    Arthur Ashe on the tennis court
    Mohammed Ali in the ring
    Andrew Young and Andrew Watts
    Black men doing their thing

    Andrew Golata in the ring
    The Pope in the Vatican Court
    Roman Polanski and Rubenstein
    Pink men of every sort

    Dressing in purples and pinks and greens
    Exotic as rum and Cokes
    Living our lives with flash and style
    Ain’t we colorful folks?

    Dressing in navy and white and beige
    Knockin’ back vodka mash
    Livin’ our lives with zest and grace
    Ain’t we got panache?

    Now ain’t we bad?
    And ain’t we Black?
    An’ ain’t we Black?
    An’ ain’t we bad?
    An’ ain’t we bad?
    An’ aint we Black?
    An’ ain’t we fine?

    Now ain’t we bad?
    An’ ain’t we Polish?
    An’ ain’t we Polish?
    An’ ain’t we bad?
    An’ ain’t we bad?
    An’ ain’t we Polish?
    An’ ain’t we fine?

    Reply
    • ira woodward

      Thanks for that– i needed the laugh. I’ve never read her work, but saw one example posted on FB in honor of her death. Made me wonder. Sad that my suspicions appear to be correct :-/

      But we need grist for the humor mills– or offal for the sausage factory, anyway. Man, i could polish one lf those off right now ;-)

      Reply
  5. Leroy Angelou

    May she rest in peace. She had a wonderful life. But she’s not , nor never will, be a poet.

    Reply
  6. mom

    She was crap. And now she is dead, she is everywhere as if she was not crap.

    Reply
    • Pammy Poo

      Really not necessary or kind to call anyone crap, unless they have proved themselves to be a ‘crappy’ person–ie: murderers, rapists, animal abusers, etc. Just say her perceived talent didn’t match the reality.

      Reply
    • Name

      Nah, she was a very self-important, egotistic person in her life. She deserves some scorn.

      Reply
  7. Riva Perry

    Wow – I’m so glad to know I’m not alone. All my friends were quoting her on FB. Complete nothingness. I decided to delve a little more deeply into her work (as I had never read her). Pure crap. Gobbledeegook as they say. Thanks for your article.

    Reply
  8. candy

    i heard some of her poetry in the janet jackson movie and am not sure if the poetry or the film were worse. Janet jackson cannot act. she made tupac look good, truthfully he was decent. Anyhoo, Im reading the inaugural poem and it starts out okay, one passage is okay, decent, then it descends into complete crap that if submitted to magazines without her name would merit its own slush pile. It was that horrible that devoid of talent.
    a poem by maya angelou (I can do maya angelou)
    prejudice
    the hateful song
    the lions the tigers the grizzly bears
    sing the hateful song
    of prejudice
    the knifed moon

    please, stop me!

    Reply
  9. mom

    Correction. Maybe I should rephrase: she was not crap but her poetry was really bad at times. (zen. I do try zen)

    Reply
  10. Thomas Huxley

    There are great Black poets and writers, who deserve the time it takes to read their works. Maya Angelou is a fine poet and writer, but intending no disrespect, her body of work never reached a level of greatness. Lanston Hughes, now there was a man who captured an era in words like no other Black man or woman before or since; and he has few equals regardless of race. When we feel a need to over-glorify the artistic content of those we respect, we do them no honor. Yes, Maya Angelou was a courageous and inspirational woman, who touched the lives of many, but her work should not be placed beyond the heights its merits. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate her life, or respect and mourn her passing.

    Reply
  11. Tig

    How’s that hate working out for everyone?
    It will take years off of your life, but maybe that is a good thing in some instances.

    Reply
    • Thomas Huxley

      So Tig, which of her works resonate most with you? It’s not hate if you respect the woman but question the merits of her work. That’s what is done when artists die; critique when their body of work is salient. In life, I think she is to be respected for the impact she’s made on the hearts and minds of young people of color. I just don’t find her work compelling. There’s no hate. It seems to me you’re defending the woman rather than her work, which is admirable, but no one here is condemning the woman. I’d find it offensive if they were. They’re discussing her work.

      Reply
      • Glenn

        Why do you have to “respect the woman”? In fact, I believe she’s a hustler and used her race very craftily to reach far beyond her grasp. I don’t respect her, I think she was pretentious and arrogant.

        It seems that the PC culture wants me to see black women a certain way, to imbue them with something special, and somehow deserving of respect. I don’t, I take people as they come and based on the facts.

        Maya Angelou was a whore (for real in her young life). She was a communist. And she was a shit poet. I guarantee you that if she hadn’t been involved with communist causes from the outset she never would have been pulled into the inner circle of the civil rights movement, never would have been noted for her pedestrian writing and never would have become a public figure. What is it about that life that I’m supposed to respect? I actually find her loathesome.

        I actually resent her being shoved at me as someone I should respect or appreciate – no thanks, I’ll make my own mind up about art and aesthetics, thanks.

        Reply
        • Murphy

          Glenn couldn’t be more correct. He said everything I wanted to say.

          Reply
        • Lord Hope.

          Know that you’ll never achieve quarter of what she achieved. Bloody Nobody.

          Reply
  12. Elvis Girl

    Her poetry always made me squirm, cringe, and be baffled that someone could achieve any success writing drivel. Because I simply want to, I am going to take one of The King’s songs and write my own Maya-style poem. When reading it, please speak in a commanding voice and emphasize the right words.

    Hound dog, hound DOG
    You ain’t nothins
    Go to Vegas
    Eat ten muffins

    Singin’ night and day
    Howl for the pay
    All THE way to
    the bank

    Hound dog
    HOUND dog
    You ain’t kiddin’
    Leavin’ Vegas
    On a jet plane

    White
    Black
    Makes grey

    Reply
  13. Sam Austin

    I had no opinion about her work, which I hadn’t read, until FB friends kept posting this quotation of hers likening a woman in harmony with herself to a river, in that “She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.” How exactly is that like a river, whose course is not self-determined but rather governed by topography, and how is a river “prepared to be itself” when it arrives at its destination? And isn’t there an even more thunderous vacuity concealed by the distraction of the unpretentious river, since by definition “a woman in harmony with herself” would of course be “herself and only herself” whether going or staying?

    I let that slide, however, till I saw her elsewhere referring to something being “shy as a magnolia.” A magnolia? You mean the big tree with the gigantic blossoms dropping leaves and cones all over my yard? SHY? Sometimes I wish it WERE a little more shy. Then I read something she wrote about Nelson Mandela’s death being news that came “on the wings of a wind.” I started to wonder if she had ever gotten a figurative expression right.

    This led me to “Phenomenal Woman” and then “And Still I Rise,” and both struck me as so utterly puerile that I had no desire to investigate further. So, not a fan. But RIP Maya, I’m glad for your sake and theirs that you meant so much to so many.

    Reply
  14. Eric Goldsmith

    When I was a young teenager I remember hearing her inaugural poem. I remember thinking “what a snot she is”. Even back then I knew I was a better writer than her.

    Reply
  15. Cj

    Name one good Angelou poem. She’s no Derek Walcott. She was such an ego maniac too. Why should I mourn her passing. Her poetry sucked and she lived to a ripe old age. Century from now will be maya who?

    Reply
  16. Maya Sucked

    Her poetry is terrible. She lacked talent so badly it hurt the entire art form of poetic writing. Now she is dead. Can we finally promote a poet who had decent poems, not a hack?

    Reply
  17. Amambay

    After enough people tell you that whatever words you put together are beautiful and profound, more poetic than any poetry ever written, it would be near impossible to avoid becoming self-righteous and conceited. That said, I find that the worst thing about her poetry and writing isn’t even that it’s sophomoric and low-quality… it’s that it almost seems self-aware and believes that it’s beyond awesome.

    Reply

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