Maya Angelou – And Still I Rise

by Senior reader

Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise contains some poems I know well – Woman Work for example – a very simple poem which trades on the contrast between its rushed and simple opening section – a shopping list of jobs to do – and the lyrical second half, focusing on natural beauty.  It’s a microcosm of the whole anthology, as Angelou rises out of the ashes of her experiences as a black woman – shine on me sunshine.

Angelou covers feminism and racism in ways, and from a point of view, that was radical and shocking when her work was first published.  This anthology begins with physical abuse – lover’s fist.  It continues with a neat epigrammatic poem, Country Lover, a satirical comment on some men’s attitudes to women.  Her lines and vocabulary are simple; there are strong rhythms which give the poetry power and confidence, as in Phenomenal Woman, and usually simple images in which light and the sun play a large part.

Not only women find escape and beauty in Angelou’s poems – in California Prodigal for example it is he whose agile poppies dance/ In golden riot.  The images are of colour and power – explosions, dancing, defiance.  Throughout Angelou uses imagery like this – beautiful, natural – to present her characters.

At times her writing is so simple that it is like verse for children – Life doesn’t frighten me, or Aint that bad? – but it is direct and effective.  In other poems she is able to make powerful comments by using very simple ideas and precise description – My Arkansas for example – or to make satirical points neatly and with wit – as in Lady Luncheon Club.