Pure Poetry #12: Maya Angelou

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia

The word ‘ubiquitous’ gets on my nerves because it itself is ubiquitous. But if there’s ever a time to use that stupid word, it’s when discussing Maya Angelou. I feel like you either know all there is to know about her, or you just know that she delivered Clinton’s inaugural poem and beyond that, you’ve written her off as being almost annoyingly ubiquitous and not really worth looking into.

I do that with NYT Best Sellers. Like, “Nah, I’ll stick with this Hayden’s Ferry Review, thanks; you can keep that Dan Brown.”

Also I’d done that with Maya Angelou.

Then one magical night, I found myself glued to the television, accidentally watching Master Class on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Maya Angelou was telling her life story and I swear every word that fell from her her mouth was poetry.

Ok. I’m sold.

Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity. Take up the battle. Take it up. It’s yours.

-Maya Angelou, Master Class

And I nearly broke my neck scrambling through tears and over pillows to find a piece of paper in my nightstand drawer so I could write that down. I wrote “take up the battle” across my mirror in block letters with a dry erase marker. I wrote it in the margins of the notebook I was keeping for a documentary post I still haven’t finished. I want to tattoo it on my arm but I don’t know where.

If Maya Angelou hadn’t told me to take up the battle, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I might still be waiting for another human to notice that I needed them to say it.

But that’s ok because sometimes people just need a push. Or a teacher. Or an introduction to a moment that bends the light, finally.

Maya Angelou has accomplished more than I can squeeze into this space. Learn more about her. Read her many, many books. The poems below can be found in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.

The New House
What words
have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
steamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder, what among
these shades will be
left of me.

Senses of Insecurity
I couldn’t tell fact from fiction
—–or if my dream was true,
The only sure prediction
—–in this whole world was you.
I’d touched your features inchly,
—–heard love and dared the cost.
The scented spiel reeled me unreal
—–and found my senses lost.

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Laneia is the Director of Operations and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here.

Laneia has written 930 articles for us.


  1. I found out earlier this week that Maya Angelou is coming to talk at Mizzou in April and I got excited and then you posted this and I think you are reading my mind or something.

    Also. “Take up the battle.” I love that.

  2. I saw Maya speak in 2008 and she changed my life. I guess what happened is that I assimilated that which she had said into my life, it just slowly faded into my subconscious where I hopefully act on what she said without knowing I am.
    When my roommate said she had recorded this I was so excited. After work and class and dinner we sat down and I CRIED.
    I just had to share our shared experience of watching the show.

  3. Thanks for including Maya, one of my favorite poets. I saw her in Portland last year and felt so grateful for it. Portland can be a very racially segregated city (as shown by your maps you had on the site recently) but seeing Maya brought people of all races together. She’s getting older and I simply was happy to be in her presence while we still can.
    Also, love the Sesame Street image. :)

  4. There is a special place in my heart for about 5 or 6 english teachers I’ve had, who had a special place in their hearts for Maya Angelou. Those were always my favorite days of class.

  5. I have never been more pissed off at my highschool than I was when, after giving a speech on Maya Angelou’s importance as someone who was willing to speak unapologetically about race, sexism, and sexuality, they had a student read ‘Still I Rise’.

    And somehow the stanza:

    “Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?”


    “Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    Sparkling behind my eyes?”

    Double message much?

  6. I like Maya. She does not let people push her around.

    I saw an interview where she was being asked about Don Imus calling players on a women’s college basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” The interviewer asked what she thought about Russell Simmons saying there was no comparison between hip hop artists using the word “ho” and Imus doing it. She said that’s bull, and it doesn’t matter who says it. She then suggested hip hop artists go call Laura Bush those things, and see what happens. LOL.

    I also loved when that one dude spoofed her on The Big Gay Sketch Show. Fucking hilarious.

  7. Maya’s battle quote always reminds me of my fav poem from Emily Dickenson –

    I shall not live in vain.
    “If i can stop one heart from breaking, i shall not live in vain. if i can ease one life the aching , or cool one pain, or help one fainting Robin unto his nest again. I shall not live in vain.”

    reading it makes my soul soar and yern to be greater then what I am…..

  8. i watched a documentary on her in my 12th grade “women in literature” class that introduced me to her. i will never forget that day and how her words altered my way of thinking. she helped me survive and Thrive.

    [and still, I rise.]

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