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Phenomenal Woman Born in April 1928, at the age of eighty four Maya Angelou is an American poet, author, actress, director, screenwriter, dancer and activist who, over the course of her life so far, has published six autobiographies, five books of essays, several books of poetry and is credited with writing numerous plays, movies and television shows that span more than fifty years.  She has also worked for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in her capacity as a civil rights activist.

Her poetry book, entitled Phenomenal Woman, published in 1995, is a collection of four poems which takes its title from a poem she wrote which originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978, in which Angelou describes the physical and spiritual characteristics and qualities that make her attractive:

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 in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

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 in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me….”

Much of Angelou’s poetry can be traced to African-American oral traditions, especially in her use of the personal narrative, just as the poet Denny Bradbury does in her poem “So Grey the Sea” from her new collection “De-versify” in which she talks of fighting for what is rightfully hers in terms of a place in society:

“..They’re dead and gone
But me, I’m here
No-one will take
What’s mine
D’you hear?

I won’t go back to
Where I’m from
Its in the city
I belong…”

“Phenomenal Woman” is a poem that encapsulates the power that Angelou felt women have, even if they are not a classical beauty, simply through a woman’s attributes such as “the fire in her eyes …and the joy in (her) feet”. Her exultation of the phenomena that is woman herself shows a strength borne from the harrowing experiences Angelou suffered as a child, when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and as a result of her uncles murdering the man responsible, became mute for five years, believing his murder to be her fault.   As Denny Bradbury writes in her poem “Purposely Drifting”:

“..Inner calm will be your amazing strength..”  For Maya Angelou this was certainly true and she has gone on to lead an inspirational life.

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