Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Maya Angelou

A Conceit | Maya Angelou

This short poem from Maya Angelou resonates today. Especially in light of undeclared and declared wars raging in the USA and around the globe. Note that a conceit is an image or metaphor as often found in poetry. So use your imagination as you read! Maya Angelou is painting a picture in poetic language. My comments follow.

Give me your hand.

Make room for me
to lead and follow
you
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.

Maya Angelou, in Poetry for Young People
Edited by Edwin Graves Wilson, PhD
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books

In this short poem I hear Maya Angelou saying two things about life and poetry.

  • Poetry can be emotionally moving while remaining a private indulgence.
  • This poem asks for more than this. Will you come with me?

Her phrase “beyond this rage of poetry” gives us a clue. This rage isn’t about anger. It’s the raging emotions of literary writing. This includes poems that convey deeply felt, sometimes prophetic emotions.

Maya Angelou’s poem demands more than our feelings, our sentimentality. It invites action. Not simply alone, but also together.

It may sound trite to say we need each other. Of course we do. Yet this poem is about more than that.

On its own, poetry can’t bring about change. It doesn’t matter how persuasively a poem describes our agony or our ecstasy, our losses or our love. What matters most is what we do or don’t do about it.

And so Maya Angelou’s poem offers an alternative to living in the private world of poetry. The alternative moves me into public worlds in which I am not yet present just as I am. Vulnerable, a beginner, falling down and getting up to begin again. Hanging onto Maya Angelou’s hand for dear life. Sometimes leading the way.

This first step doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for the direction we take. Yet if I don’t take Maya Angelou’s hand and follow her lead, I won’t discover what we may need to do next.

My gender, color, family background, or other markers of my so-called ‘identity’ won’t help me solve a problem I don’t yet understand.

Where are we going? We’ll find out together, ‘beyond this rage of poetry.’ Beyond its private intensity and enthusiasm of words.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2018
Image found at wikia.com

being at home

being at home
in her spacious small body
the caged bird sings

My life has felt unusually restricted this winter. It seems outrageous. Here I am, an adult woman with my working years behind me, and ‘nothing’ to do but record thoughts going through my mind.

I’ve almost finished my slow reading of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’ve been on the lookout for times when the caged bird sings. Times when it seems there’s no way out. No way to reverse what’s happening. Until someone begins singing or writing or speaking, creating a different reality. Intangible yet real.

In addition, this morning I read the following lines from a favorite book on writing.

We can travel a long way and do many different things, but our deepest Happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences. It is born from letting go of whatever is unnecessary, and knowing ourselves to be always at home.

Sharon Salzburg, quoted in Gail Sher’s book, One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, p. 36, Penguin Group 1999

As Gail Sher puts it, “Home is where writing happens. The writer’s desk is a miniature world. Self-contained. Hopefully quiet. Anywhere else is somewhere else.”

It’s easy to write about somewhere else, or wish I were somewhere else. In someone else’s body or circumstances. I’m as prone to wandering as anyone. Besides, I think I’ve already had more than enough to say about myself.

Yet here I am today, feeling a tug to say more. In particular, more about my relationships with men. And saying it in a way that sets me free. The way Maya Angelou’s words about her life set her free.

Though my life might seem tame when compared with others, I used to think I would rather die than talk about my history with men. This past week I pulled out notes I made years ago that will help me do this. It’s important, because I believe my history with men was driven by things I was looking for. Not by something inherently wrong with me.

In the end, I want what sometimes has felt like a cage to be part of my home. The platform from which I sing.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 January 2018
Image found at asfmtech.org

Our original sin

I wonder…
Does each nation
Each country
Have an original sin
The seed of its
Particular ignominy
Running through veins
Shot full of raging
Hormones escalating
Into tragedies
Of historic proportions
Played out in
Unnumbered permutations
Of seduction and flattery
Designed to deceive
And subdue?

It isn’t just the daily revelation of predatory behavior by public figures and officials. It’s the reality that various permutations of predatory behavior undergird the earliest foundations of our nation.

I’d describe it this way: The subduing and disappearing of some in order to pursue the welfare of a select group that viewed and still view themselves as more entitled than others.

Layer upon layer. Decade after decade. And now we’ve come to this juncture in our history without a clear understanding of how we got here, and how many were and still are subdued and disappeared. Buried beneath mountains of inspiring proclamations, and promises not kept.

So what am I doing about it? Besides writing, I’m reading. Today I’m focused on books that invite me to open my mind and my heart. Not simply to what happened when our country was founded, but what’s still happening today. Unrecorded, unexamined, and unacknowledged.

My newest book is Sing, Unburied, Sing, written by Jesmyn Ward. I’m also reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. One painful chapter at a time.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 November 2017
Photo of Great Dismal Swamp found at smithsonianmag.com
The swamp, located in Virginia and North Carolina, once served as a refuge for Native Americans and fugitive slaves.

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