When Maya Angelou passed away at the end of May, the literary community experienced a great loss. She penned amazing poetry that touched many people and helped open many doors of understanding. When I heard about her passing, like many other people, I immediately put holds on my library’s copies of her poetry and the memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m still waiting on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but I finally got the poetry volumes: The Complete Collected Poems and Phenomenal Woman. (While Phenomenal Woman consists of poems contained within The Complete Collected Poems, I checked it out separately because the poems contained in the volume are in my opinion among her most powerful.)
I hadn’t read anything by her in quite a long time, but I still remember the first time I ever picked up her poetry. In middle school, one of my English teachers had a copy of Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? on his shelf of free reading books. Because I tended to be very far ahead in my work, I read pretty much everything on that shelf that year. Interspersed between many “fun” novels, that were probably set there to seem like a reward when we got permission to read instead of having to do in class work, were some pieces of work that captivated my interest. Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? was one of those pieces of work. Within the volume, the poem that most caught me, and that is still probably my favorite of Maya Angelou’s poems is “Caged Bird.”
I’ve enjoyed rereading her poetry, and I remembered correctly that I found the four poems contained in the short volume Phenomenal Woman very powerful (“Phenomenal Woman,” “Still I Rise,” “Weekend Glory,” and “Our Grandmothers”). I feel like this is a very representative selection, and while none of the four poems are as close to my heart as “Caged Bird,” I wish that more people read them.
I don’t really have the words to say my thoughts about Maya Angelou’s work right now. Maybe I’ll have more thoughts after I’ve read her memoir again, but she was a phenomenal poet and an amazing human being. She will be missed!