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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Maya Angelou: One of The Most Phenomenal Women


Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me. 

Maya Angelou

                                                                      Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman in every sense of the word. Her many friends included Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack
Obama, and Oprah Winfrey.

Martina McBride, Grammy-nominated country singer and songwriter, once said being around Maya Angelou "made you want to be the best you could be, because she saw the best we could be. And she was like a bright and shining mirror. Because she saw the best in us, we could see it in ourselves. And once we saw it we had a responsibility to live it."

One of McBride's favorite phrases of Angelou's is: "Can't do is like don't care. Neither of them have a home." But Martina's very favorite words were the last words the poet spoke to her: "Come visit me in my home. I will cook for you."

Dr. Angelou was 86 when she died at her home on May 28, 2014.

African-American author, poet, dancer, and singer Maya Angelou published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than 50 years. She received dozens of awards and over 30 honorary doctoral degrees.

She also was a Tony-nominated stage actress, Grammy Award winner for three spoken-word albums, civil rights activist, streetcar conductor, Calypso singer, dancer, and movie director.

Angelou was best known for her 1969 autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," about growing up in the segregated South. That pioneering work helped give black women writers a literary voice and became a reading list staple in American classrooms.

"Phenomenal Woman"

“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou is most definitely autobiographical. It celebrates femininity while highlighting the traits necessary for a woman to become "phenomenal." The speaker expresses the view that the "inner mystery," not the traditional view of outer beauty makes a woman a phenomenal creature of grace.

One critic writes this about the poem and its relation to the life of Dr. Angelou:

"She faced constant discrimination as a woman, particularly an African American woman. She also thought that she was never terribly pretty. She allowed this dissatisfaction to grow, but when she became older she killed it with the sense of pride she gained.

"After going back to live with her mother in St. Louis, Maya was raped by her mother's boyfriend. Shortly after his trial her rapist was found murdered; Maya felt that she had killed him and for a while she quit speaking.  At the age of sixteen Maya became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, whom she named Clyde (Guy).

"At such a young age Maya had to deal with many issues such as her rape and her identity as a black person.  At one point in her life she even worked as a prostitute and madam."

Lyman B. Hagen states, "The persona in this poem is a strong, confident woman. The woman described is easily matched to the author herself.  Angelou is an imposing woman-- at least six feet tall.  She has a strong personality and a compelling presence as defined in the poem"

In "Phenomenal Woman," the female persona says that pretty women and men ask "her secret." The persona criticizes the biased societal expression that expects women to starve themselves in order to be considered "pretty." She states: "I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size." And even when she tells them this, the women and men don't believe her.

Angelou then uses simple imagery so that the proud, confident persona can be better understood.   She lists characteristics to help further the reader's sense of the persona:  "The curl of my lips... / It's in the fire in my eyes... / The sun of my smile... / The need for my care."

Angelou uses her verse to show that within a woman’s attitude, she finds poise, sensuality, and self-confidence. As this attitude creates a quality of charisma, the nature of the quality is unique to each woman. "That's me" affirms the display of these particular personal qualities: one woman’s allure doesn’t fit another.

A phenomenal woman demonstrates her beauty by being herself. Her demeanor does not project selfish pride, though, she’s proud of the person she is without being overbearing. In this manner, the poem challenges each female to find her defining self and demonstrate her lovely nature. 

Additional aspects of being a phenomenal woman addressed in the work are motion and grace. Contemporary African American poet, Lucille Clifton, also describes these in her poem "Homage to My Hips."

Homage to My Hips

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

A phenomenal woman moves as if nothing troubles her world. She moves as if everything about her is secure. The persona in "Phenomenal Woman" tells about the mystery admirer's can't really "see" even though they try: "I don't shout or jump about / Or have to talk real loud / ... It's in the arch of my back / The sun of my smile, / The ride of my breasts, / The grace of my style.
One of the themes in Angelou’s work is that we are human beings- more alike than we are
unalike. “It is differences that strengthen and enrich us – while making us more interesting.”

A spirited, gifted soul like Dr. Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman -- from the "bend of her hair" to the "palm of her hand" to the "joy in her feet." Yet, Maya, we do still "feel the need of your care" because you are a wondrous woman who lives in your work. We who you leave behind benefit from your remarkable accomplishments.

“All of my work is meant to say, ‘You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated.’ In fact, the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure.”   

 --Maya Angelou as quoted in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature


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