3 Poetry Lessons from Amanda and Angelou

Lesson #1: Study

Amanda Gorman, 22, became the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles at sixteen years old in 2014 and the first national youth poet laureate three years later. On Wednesday, she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration, following Maya Angelou and Robert Frost’s considerably more experienced footsteps. (Los Angeles Times)

Random fun fact: Amanda is a twin!

In her CNN interview with Anderson, Gorman spoke about the power of words and all the research that went into her poem, such as reviewing texts from poets of previous inaugurations and studying other orators like Frederick Douglass.

“I did a lot of research ever since I found out I was going to be the inaugural poet in late December. Really doing a deep literature dive of other orators.”

I highlight this because research is not a word we hear often associated with poetry, but the best poets do it. It is not only about stringing some rhymes together. The best poets are avid researchers, readers, and students.

While writing “The Hill We Climb,” the poet listened to music that helped put her “in a historic and epic mind-set,” including soundtracks from “The Crown,” “Lincoln,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Hamilton.”

“I wasn’t trying to write something in which those events were painted as an irregularity or different from an America that I know,” said Gorman of the events of January 6th. “America is messy. And I have to recognize that in the poem. I can’t ignore that or erase it.”

I think we can all agree that Maya Angelou had talent, but Angelou also studied the art. In her muteness, she listened to how people spoke, the inflection of their voices, the way their arms and hands moved. She listened to the black ministers and the melody of the preachers, musicians, and performers. She read books of all kinds, traveled to different countries, and learned other languages.

What is the lesson here?

Good poetry is a good study. It is more than the rhyme of a creative mind, but how that creativity can take elements of real life, history, and experience and weave it together with language that is so fluid and precise that it enters the heart and goes right down to the soul.

Lesson #2: When You Are Not Writing/Speaking, Read

In the five years, Angelou was mute, she read every book in the black school library and every book she could get from the white school library. She memorized James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawerence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. She memorized Shakespear, whole plays, and fifty sonnets. Angelou memorized Edgar Allen Poe and all the poetry.

When Angelou decided to speak, she had a lot to say and many ways to say it.

Gorman is also a reader.

“When she’s not watching cooking shows, Gorman copes with isolation by reading books to prepare her for that future. She picked up former President Obama’s “A Promised Land” the day it came out. She’s also reading Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History,” which interrogates long-standing historical narratives from the Haitian Revolution to the Alamo.”

Lesson #3: Learning from Others

I am not going to say that I agree with every lyric of Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the delivery, the poetic techniques used, the alliteration, and the metaphoric skill. I have listened to other poems of Amanda’s, and I love the sound of her voice and the movement of her hands at pivotal points. It is not overly dramatic but poised and elegant.

At the Roar, Grand Slam Gorman said, “The air smelled of Hollywood and desperation.” Gorman’s enunciation of words and clarity of speech speaks to her comprehension of the information. Rather from her speech impediment or the love of poetry, you can tell that Gorman has studied language, and it comes through beautifully in her speech.

Maya Angelou has one of the most powerful voices I had ever heard. We are so blessed that she did not stay silent! What I noticed about Angelou was how she did not limit her reading. Maya embraced different voices and cultures, and I believe this nurtured her perspective so that it stretched wide, and from her poetry, you can hear the wisdom of understanding shine through.

Lesson number three is perhaps the most important one of all.

You do not have to agree with everything someone says or does to learn from them. Remember that Yah spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey. (Numb. 22:28)

Lol. These bitmojis are just funny to me

“I am the daughter of black writers. We are descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.”

– Amanda Gorman

The Mistake

This poem was inspired by Maya Angelou’s “We Wear the Mask,” and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Mask.”


Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

We define grief as tears, not smiles
heartbreaking groans, and complaints
an emotion-gripped body that bends and aches
a display of physical pain is how we mistake
what it means to grieve.

We lookout for people who are visibly sad

a distraught tone of voice, a mind gone mad

a person who neglects to eat, but drinks

or maybe have a hard time falling asleep.

The physical signs of a distressed soul are what we see for ourself

and to this, we say, “careful now, of your mental health.”

 

But what of the people who are not so physically troubled?

 

They wake up each morning

their heads held high.

They could wallow in self-pity but prefer to fly.

They spread their cheeks, so we see their teeth,

and somehow, deep underneath the grief, they smile.

Their shoulders do not droop or bow or lean,

and from their eyes, no tears be seen.

We run to them for advice, and in their ears, we spill our guts

“They are pillars of strength, no matter what,”

we say

and this is the mistake.

 

Right there in those smiling faces, see the invisible rock.

The chains of depression’s coffles

it’s whips and lash and knock

its uninvited entry when our smiling support goes home

and lay their pillars on their pillows 

before crying themselves to sleep.

 

In a world as destructive as this one, 

they need not make it known 

that even the happiest person 

still cries and loathes and moans.

Even the most joyous of us, with praise smeared on our lips

have some load to carry, 

we wish to be helped with.

But if physical anguish is the only measurement

by which we weigh grief

then these people don’t have a chance

of attaining such release.

 

And yet, where would we be without these rays of light

who helps us, if for a moment, to believe all is right?

Where would we be without people with such faith?

Those who pull us from the grave, 

even as they stand on the edge of death and wait?

Too solid to bend and too proud to break.

They go on permitting us to believe 

pain is but a physical thing.

 

This is the mistake.

People Will Never Forget How You Made them Feel

If there is one thing I have learned in both my personal and professional life (to include blogging) is that change is inevitable. One day you will look up and the people who were rooting for you, in the beginning, are not rooting for you any longer. As I’ve said on this blog once before, you can look up and see an entirely new group of supporters/readers.

Just as quickly as COVID-19 has swept over the world, people will pack up their support and leave you dumbfounded. What happened? What changed? Am I no longer interesting? Is the content no longer quality?

It’s easy to blame ourselves. It’s our blog, our book, our product. And while we are conscious enough to know that sometimes our circle will decrease in size, we must remind ourselves that while the support might decrease in size that doesn’t mean it doesn’t increase in quality. A lack of interest sometimes has nothing to do with us. Although it may feel like it, it’s not personal.

But as I’ve said, we are human with feelings and thoughts and emotions. We cannot help but wonder. These are the times where we will need to pick up our faith, hold on to those gifts and hold our heads higher than we’ve ever held it before. I can’t tell you why some people leave, why they unsubscribe from your life or what you did to influence this decision. What I can echo are the words from one of our favorite poets and one of my favorite quotes:

“People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These are such powerful words to me because it’s a two-edged sword. Whether you make people feel inspired and empowered or whether you make them feel discouraged and disheartened, people will remember it.

People will leave when they’ve served the purpose in your life it meant them to serve and some of them will even forget what you’ve done. What they won’t forget is the impact you’ve had on their life, the imprint you left there and how you made them feel.

Entrepreneurship, authorship specifically, is hard and I know that in this climate “hard” doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe what it’s like to endure this, but I hope this message and Angelou’s words were not only encouraging for you today but that they help you persist in the troublesome areas.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was understanding the state of my mental health is much more important than my career because my level of self-worth and self-love is what will drive the work.

A text I received from Ms. Edwards (pictured) inspired this post; how good it felt to know someone was thinking about me. So whether it’s a text, phone call, email or DM, it doesn’t take much to be kind. Since we are all in the same boat right now, with the time you have, be sure to reach out to someone who has made an impression on you and show them you appreciate them.

Let us remember that support is a verb.

Alone | Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

– Maya Angelou

Remembering Martin and Maya

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that.”  – Martin Luther King Jr., 1/15/29 – 4/4/68

Martin’s Top 10 Rules for Success

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou, 4/4/28 – 5/28/14

Angelou’s Top 10 Rules for Success

The Butterfly is Supposed to Struggle

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Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” No one likes to struggle because the pain, of any kind, does not feel good. In fact, many of us probably spend our entire lives seeking to struggle less. To reduce the chances of pain and heartache in our lives, of embarrassment and of shame.

The only problem with this is that the butterfly is supposed to struggle. It is how it achieves its beauty in the first place. The butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without this struggle, the butterfly will never, ever fly.

To my beautiful butterflies out there, don’t try to circumvent the struggle, don’t bypass the pain or override the alarm. Let what needs to happen, happen and listen to what it has to teach you because the struggle is necessary for the growth. The struggle is good if you want to fly.

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Poetry Contest Reminder: Closing July 19, 2017

As you all know, I am running my first ever poetry contest in honor of my upcoming release Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) which features poetry and is available now for eBook preorders.

Click Here to order at the low price of $1.99 before the price goes up on July 15th.

This book will also be available in paperback.

You can help further by marking Renaissance as to read on Goodreads. CLICK HERE.

Now, poetry…

I am writing to remind you that this contest will end soon!

First, what is this all about? For those of you who have not already checked into Colleen’s Blog where I made the initial announcement on June 19, 2017,  here are the rules:

The Poem

Submit one or two original, unpublished poems to Yecheilyah at yecheilyah ysrayl dot com (yecheilyah@yecheilyahysrayl.com) between now through July 19, 2017. You will have until 12:00 midnight Central Standard Time on 7/19 to get your poems in before closing.

Poems must be your ORIGINAL work and UNPUBLISHED anywhere online.

There is one winner of this contest with up to 2 entries per poet.

Entry Fee:

There is a $5.00 Entry fee. Click HERE to pay the fee.

OR – Entry fees can be waived by signing up for my email list HERE. There is no other way to waive the fee.

If you are already on my email list, please mention this when submitting your poem.

Signing up for my email list represents one entry.

If you are entering more than one poem, you must pay the entry fee for any additional poems.

The Reason for the Fee:

The entry fee is in place to help pay for the prizes.

Current Prizes

At this time, we have one Grand Prize Winner who will receive:

  • Poem published to The PBS Blog (includes links to your social media, buy links to your books (if any) and promotion.)

  • Amazon Gift Card

  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

  • *From When I was a Black Girl by Yecheilyah Ysrayl

  • And Still, I Rise by Maya Angelou

*From When I was a Black Girl is my second collection of poetry. First published in 2012 with a second edition published in 2013, this book became a book of study at The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington for the Fall 2014 semester. Part of an Independent Learning Contract, it remains part of the school’s files to this day. It is my honor to offer a paperback of this collection as a winning prize for this contest. This is an exclusive offer that you will not find on Amazon.

International Shipping

Please note: Winners outside the U.S. will be awarded Kindle downloads of the books listed if someone overseas wins.

Final Thoughts:

The winner will be announced on Monday, August 6, 2017 on both this blog and Colleen’s.

(If you win, you will be notified a couple days before the announcement via email you have won and that an announcement will go out featuring you. This is so that we can collect your information, social links and links to any books you have out if any).

The Grand Prize Winner will have their poetry featured on The PBS Blog with added promotion. The date for this will be revealed to the poet after they have won.

To enter this contest, please send $5.00 to the PayPal of Literary Korner Publishing HERE.

 

To waive your fee, please sign-up to my email list HERE.(Verification of sign-up will be reviewed before poem is accepted).

 

Send your poem to Yecheilyah @ yecheilyahysrayl.com

The Theme

Since Renaissance follows the theme of The Harlem Renaissance and Black life in the South, poems should have something to do with these themes and can be as long or as short as you would like. The contest is open to all poets.

I understand not all of you are familiar with this era so I am opening this up a bit. The theme will remain the same but it is not mandatory. Poems of all kinds will be accepted and considered for the win.

 

Would a focus on the 1920s era and women in general be nice? Yes, but it is not required to win. Consider this open mic!

 

If you didn’t see the original announcement, CLICK HERE to learn more.


That is all and I look forward to reading your poems!