Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts

Not gone, never gone
If you were to freeze halfway through the poem Still I Rise and try to define its significance there and then you would be lost in a sea of superlatives. And each one of these superlatives would be as good as if not better than the one you used before: Does my haughtiness offend you?/Don’t you take it awful hard/’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines/Diggin’ in my own backyard. Let those lines slip off your tongue. Let those lines be the slogan on your T-shirt the next morning. Clad in the type of language that shouts out: I’m proud and I’m saying it out loud! Maya Angelou’s anthemic verses have a reach beyond gender, race, sexual orientation, age, creed and (dis)ability.

Maya Angelou died last 28th May. I say “died”. What I really meant was that her body stopped moving, human functions such as breathing, laughing, crying, talking and smelling stopped happening. Maya, however, has not died. How can she? When even non-native English-speaking blokes like me have adopted Phenomenal Woman as one of their favourite incantations? A magical way to scare away the evil spirits of pessimism, machismo and bigotry.

If I were to freeze the moment when I discovered Maya I would have to take you back seventeen years. You and I would have to get on a DeLoran-like time machine and go back to the summer of 1997. Then you would see a twenty-five, almost twenty-six year-old man making his way to a flat in the leafy neighbourhood of Playa. That’s where one of his friends lives. Follow him now leaving his friend’s house with a letter in his hand. Watch him ripping the letter open (it’s from his then-girlfriend, now wife) whilst keeping an eye on the uneven pavement. Look at how he cuts across back streets, jumping over puddles of dirty water streaming its way downhill. And now, see his face. Freeze this frame for it will become a long-lasting memory in his life. His girlfriend is pregnant with their first child, she is in London and he is in Havana. She has included a poem by a poet of whom he has never heard before. Yet, from the word go he feels as if this poet has just dispossessed him of his armour, removed his mask, bared his soul. The opening lines go like this: You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies,/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I'll rise. Who is she? How dare she?  How does she know...? Questions, questions, questions. But all is in vain. In the presence of greatness we all become momentarily pious. This one altar, we don’t mind worshipping to. This is the altar steeped in antiquity and like a universal language that has been passed down from generation to generation, a language that respects no linguistic barriers (all foreigners welcome!), this altar summons those who give rationality the heave-ho and adopt feeling as their travelling companion in the ocean of Poetry.

If I were to freeze that moment you would see red ice-cold eyes, rock-solid tears caught mid-journey down my visage. That moment would be a snapshot of a discovery. The discovery of a new (at least to me) voice, one who sings out verses that sound as if they have been made of the same material as the leather of a drum or the bow of a fiddle.  Still I Rise ends in what I can only describe as a rapturous, symphonic crescendo. Each preceding stanza is a steady increase in the rhythm, a gradual build-up towards the end: oil wells pumping, hopes springing high, diamonds at the meeting of my thighs.

Maya Angelou did not die last 28th May. She is still asking people to rise. And I, for one, Maya, will never stop doing that.

© 2014

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 9th June (GMT)

20 comments:

sage said...

A nice tribute!

Pat Hatt said...

Her words will ring true for generations to view

Elephant's Child said...

We ARE diminished with her passing - but richer, so much richer to have had her presence. And the magic she left is eternal.

Kerry said...

Wow. Maya Angelou was/is a fantastic poet & I was so sad the day I heard she had died. But for you it must have been like being punched. Her passing is a great loss, but as you say, her impact will never lessen.

Elizabeth said...

Oh yes. Incantatory --

JO said...

Oh yes - although her work is grounded in her gender and her race it transcends everything and can speak for every one of us.

(To think that Gove won't let British children read her ...)

Valerie said...

I love the rhythm and the meaning of her poetry. It resonates in heart and soul. So sad that she's gone but her words will live.

Jo said (To think that Gove won't let British children read her .... I didn't know that, how DARE he do such a thing. I'm angry now.

Fly Girl said...

Wonderful tribute Cubano. I hope you don't mind that I dug up your carefully buried photo and bio for my own tribute on my blog.

Fram Actual said...

Congratulations, on a heart-felt and poignant remembrance for a wonderful poet, CiL. Her life was instrumental in creating beautiful memories and awareness for many people.

Margie said...

Beautiful tribute,
Thanks for sharing.

Jenny Woolf said...

One of the great things about certain writers is that they really don't die, and live on in their books. This is a great tribute to a great woman.

manicddaily said...

what a sweet story and lovely tribute. Thanks much. k.

Brian Miller said...

i will not either...she was def an early influence on me....and that is what we can hope to leave as writer...our words to echo forward touching lives and hearts....

Ygraine said...

A really great tribute, CiL!
I'm certain that her words will speak to many generations to come.
Her legacy is our future enrichment...:)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I think she is one of the most inspirational souls who ever lived...

Claudia said...

i love when poetry touches us right where we are - this is what good poetry does - i had a few encounters like this myself and you never forget how the words threw their magic - she was an awesome woman

sackerson said...

To my shame, I've not read any of her work. I really must give it a go.

ladyfi said...

A wonderful tribute to a fantastic person.

Boris Estebitan said...

Me encanta el tributo que le das con tu post, saludos desde Cuenca,Ecuador.

A Cuban In London said...

Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

Greetings from London.

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