Wild Young Minds: She Knew Why the Caged Bird Sang

Sunday, June 1, 2014

She Knew Why the Caged Bird Sang

''The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill 
for the caged bird
sings of freedom''

After her death four days ago, many homages - including this one - must have been paid to the American poet and author Maya Angelou. With good reason, indeed. But Maya Angelou is one of the rare persons who grabbed the opportunity to pay homage to herself while she lived. Something we all should do: trying to understand ourselves, blessing ourselves and honouring ourselves. Cause we all have that opportunity, no matter what we've been through, no matter how we failed or how we succeeded. 
Maya Angelou described herself as a phenomenal woman - ''It's in the reach of my hands, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lip. I'm a woman phenomenally. Phenamonal woman, that's me''.

But before you get the idea Maya Angelou was a haughty woman, let me tell you her life story in way too little sentences than suited for this legend. Cause Maya Angelou had every right to call herself phenomenal. Her life started as a nightmare. Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. At the age of four her parents divorced, and she was brought to her grandmother. At the age of eight, she returned to her mother's place, where the situation was repulsive. She was raped and abused by her mother's boyfriend. After telling her brother, her entire family found out and soon the man in question was killed, probably by Angelou's uncles. 
As a consequence, Angelou became mute for the next five years. "I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone ..." During this period, she must have developed her love for literature and poetry, cause she read a lot and had to find other ways to involve in the world without speaking.
At the age of 14 - she spoke again now - she moved to California with her mother. The life she led here was filled with hard jobs; she was a streetcar conducter, a night club dancer and a sex worker. In 1951, she married a Greek and worked mostly as a dancer. A pretty succesful one. A couple of years later she appeared in the opera 'Porgy and Bess' and in 1957 her first album, called 'Miss Calypso', was released.

Two years later, she moved to NY to focus on her writing. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild and came into contact with - among others - Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Baldwin. Angelou became a fanatical anti-apartheid and pro-Castro activist. After meeting and falling in love with the South African freedom fighter Make, she moved to Egypt and Ghana, where she wrote for many magazines and papers. 
In 1965, Angelou moved back to the States. Martin Luther King asked her to organize a march, which never found place, since King was shot in 1968, on Angelou's 40th birthday. 'A macabre twist of fate', someone once said. In 1969, Angelou published her famous autobiography 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' published and her star rose and rose. 
The rising of that star included many poems, including 'On the Pulse of the Morning', which she recited at Bill Clinton's inauguration. She worked as a composer, writing songs for among others Roberta Flack. She wrote documentaries, TV shows, articles and more. Her pen was always moving. Despite all the work, she stayed sunny. ''I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears and over my face''.
If I would call her phenomenal, I don't know. I'd have to read her autobiography first. But I would definitely call Maya Angelou inspiring. Take her writing ritual for instance. She would wake up early, check into a hotel room, demand the staff to remove the paintings on the wall and she would just lie on bed, with a pencil, a notebook, a bottle of sherry and some cards to play solitaire as some sort of pause. Gonna try that out soon, seems like a crazy way to write. But it worked, cause many marvelous poems rolled out of that pencil onto the paper in those hotels. 
The death of Maya Angelou is not an intensely sad one, since the poet was old and has left a gigantic unity of works behind her. 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' will remain one of the leading poems in America, I'm sure. Maya Angelou will remain an inspiration. Not only for aspiring writers as myself, but also for Afro-Americans, for women with struggles and for youngsters trying to find theirselves. Always feel free to honour yourselves and don't let anything refrain you from doing so. So I say in the spirit of Maya Angelou ;) 

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