Wednesday, May 28, 2014
A world figure, a towering woman both literally and figuratively; Oprah's mentor and the inaugural poet - but no matter how grand she got, I like that she was always ready to acknowledge the full range of her career, including her stint in cabaret.
"Miss Calypso" may seem an incongruous alter ego for America's best-known poet, but for Maya Angelou, it was just one of her dizzying number of identities - cookbook author, television pundit, diva of the African theater in post-colonial Ghana, editor of an English paper in Cairo... like Whitman, she contained multitudes.
Time will tell whether the poetry lives (and for every Whitman, every Dickinson, there are a hundred hundred Ella Wheeler Wilcoxes or worse), but as a woman and a personage, it's hard to imagine she won't have a place of some sort in the annals of our age. I hope the history books don't remember just the grave, august (and occasionally, one must admit, slightly over-the-top) literary legend, but also the woman who danced in nightclubs and who had a laugh that could rumble from bass to coloratura in a way that celebrated one of the personal qualities she enumerated in her poem, so much quoted as the sad news broke, "Still I Rise": her sassiness. It's a not a quality one associates, perhaps, with the Greater Poets, but it's of a piece with Miss Calypso, dancing as she is today over the horizon and into whatever it is that lies beyond.