This Old Poem #36:
Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/9/02

  You knew it hadda happen, didn’t you? Sooner or later I would have to take on the horror that is Maya Angelou- poet, persona, & premier poetaster of the day! Note to those thin-skinned readers like a certain angry, obese poetaster who recently threatened me & had their own recent brouhaha with MA: I emphasize the word ‘persona’ because I am sure MA is a decent, nice, & lovable woman. BUT, as a writer &, especially, poet MA is 1 of the 7 Horrors of the Modern World. I will detail the other 6 in later essays. Her verse is so transparently simple-minded that only a bonafide moronic sycophant like Bill Moyers could have trouble understanding her poems. [NOTE- literally, BM uttered these sentiments in 1999 at a speaking engagement in St. Paul- my wife & I are witnesses!] But, in case you do not who this purveyor of penny-ante pap is, here is the obligatory bio (gleaned from a # of Mayaphilic websites): 

  MA was born 4/4/28 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up in rural Arkansas during the pre-Civil Rights Jim Crow Era. She has made great hay of this in her series of autobiographical snoozers. Along with claiming to be a poet MA calls herself a historian, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist (for which a # of Black Militants nail her on for alleged fallacies), editor, dancer, film producer, & director. She has claimed to been victimized by incest, racism, childhood dumbness, & 1 thinks, perhaps alien abductions [Coming soon to a bookstore near you- MA describes her mondo freaky sexcapades with small gray-skinned midgets!]

   Despite all her ‘accomplishments’ MA was still relatively an unknown to the wider pop culture until her recurring appearances to shill her dreck on the Oprah Winfrey tv talk show, & then reciting a piece of doggerel at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration in 1993. For the last 20 years she has been a Reynolds Professor at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

  Boy, ain’t you intrigued by this globetrotting fool? No? Well, let’s hit the titular poem.

Phenomenal Woman 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.


  At this point in a TOP essay I usually diacritically mark the poem in question for such things as clichés, bad line breaks, predictable tropes. This poem- all 60 lines- is so atrocious that why should I bother? There is absolutely nothing here that is good, so I will save a little ink. Virtually every fuckin’ line is a cliché! Those that are not- like ‘I say’- are so small that they have no real reason for being broken that way. There is not a line that has anything memorable. This poem is void of music & the only reason for it’s writing was probably that some publisher offered to publish this tripe in a ‘Special Edition’ for $20 a pop, & publish- literally 2-3 lines per page! MA is noted for not letting her doggerel be published in black poetry anthologies unless they meet her STEEP fees. ANYONE WHO CAN HONESTLY THINK THERE IS A SINGLE POSITIVE THING IN THIS GARBAGE IS EITHER A TOTAL MORON, OR- well, what I just said! This poem is SO BAD that I would derisively call MA a Hallmark Card writer, but- in a twist too sickening to be anything but true- she recently inked a multi-million dollar deal to do just that for Hallmark! In that vein, let’s pare her poem down to Hallmark Card size:


The Uncertainty Of Me At The Quill Of Monologue


Wonder where my secret lies. 

Men themselves

Have wondered.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.


  The poem is 1/12th its original size & I gave it a quasi-Stevensian title. This is 1 of those rare instances where I have to admit defeat. This poem has absolutely nothing to salvage. The title is the best thing, & that’s mine. Thus I have defeated the very purpose of the TOP series by injecting too much of myself into a rewrite.
  Let me just end that MA is a horrible, HORRIBLE writer. Her stuff should be in textbooks AS WHAT NOT- nay, NEVER- TO DO! She writes as if every word were to be the perfectly enunciated beginning of the Declaration Of Independence, in her o-so-masculate voice. Instead we get voice-overs lifted from an Ed Wood movie- R.I.P. Tor Johnson! MA has never had a deep nor singular thought in her life. Nothing she has ever written has anything that sketches who the writer really is- in short, the word is generic. Change a few words & details in the poem & it could easily be about coming out of the closet, or discovering Jesus. See? That’s because I believe there is no real MA, just a caricature dreamt up in the mind of the incested & addled brain of little Marguerite Johnson. But ain’t it wonderful when (as Marguerite’s alter-ego might say) ‘Dreams come true!’? MA exists for 1 reason alone- to define the very essence of what the word sellout means. Black radicals have lambasted her for burnishing her spotty Civil Rights record, Dead White Males have lambasted her for actually making $ with her tripe while all they get is a seat at the Old Boys Network, & I am 1 of the few people who lambaste her writing because it, well, SUCKS HER BIG BLACK ASS!
  Earlier this year noted angry black poetastress Wanda Coleman got into hot water & got herself banned from an all-black bookstore by attacking MA’s ridiculous prose. Let me stand in solidarity with that sista! Unfortunately- pardon the cliché- coming from WC that’s the pot calling- well, you know where I’m going. Let me stand up, as a great poet, & say to MA- this is not about jealousy, nor black-on-black in-fighting, my criticism of your tripe is about poetry critics finally standing up & doing what they are supposed to do. If critics do not stand up to the biggest & most powerful desecraters of the art & do the spade is a spade schtick, then who will?
  Before I end this piece, let me state that I have laced this piece with some self-consciously race-baiting words & phrases. I do this as a tribute to 1 of my new admirers from Los Angeles- you know who- & because folk like that will only have noticed the race-baiting ½, not the self-conscious setting of the snare. If only MA gave a fraction of that kind of thought to her poems it would- Ah, but who am I kidding? Then you all wouldn’t be able to sit in agogged rapture over such lines as ‘I'm a woman/Phenomenally./Phenomenal woman,/That's me.’ Poor bastards!


Final Score: (1-100):

Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman: 25 (in a display of generosity)
TOP’s The Uncertainty Of Me At The Quill Of Monologue: 45

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