MAYA ANGELOU – POET AS PERFORMANCE ARTIST SUPREME
Had Maya Angelou written only two poems – And Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman – she would have earned her place in the hearts and minds of many for all time. But she didn’t, she wrote plenty. Nuggets of cascading, rhythmic stories of life, she spoke them in a voice that loped and crooned and glittered with steel, a pliant steel, a steel of deep humanity that cut through the crassness of false difference.
“Human beings are more alike than we are unlike. And let us see that. And not only cherish that, but delight in the differences because differences are superficial, and they should delight us.”
— Maya Angelou to Tim Sebastian of the BBC
A black woman born in the American South in 1928. When her parents divorced she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother. She was three years old. Four years later she returned to her mother in St Louis where she suffered a trauma that caused her to stop speaking for five years. Whilst mute she read voraciously and fell in love with Poe and Shakespeare, she connected with the rhythm and music that can run through words. The poet was born.
The power of what Maya Angelou had to say was made alive and vital by the way she spoke it, performed it. Whether reciting poetry – her own and what others had written that she knew by heart – or responding to a question in an interview, she brought tone and cadence to her words, lacing them with spirit. Her sense of self was richly grounded, defiantly sure, open, bold, sensual, unafraid.
Maya Angelou at the Lewisham Theatre in South London 1987