for international women’s day: a maya angelou poem and recipe

 

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” ~ Maya Angelou

 

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

By invitation of Poetry Friday host Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core, we are joining today’s celebration to honor notable women. I so admire and respect Maya Angelou, a true Renaissance woman who lived many lifetimes as a poet, autobiographer, playwright, producer, director, actor, singer, dancer, editor, lecturer, civil rights activist, and fierce advocate of strong women.

Her landmark autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), made her a prominent spokesperson for African Americans and set a precedent, enabling formerly marginalized black female writers to publicly discuss their personal lives. This book and her four subsequent autobiographies are among the most powerful and transformative books I’ve ever read.

Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.

 

This year’s IWD theme is “Balance for Better.” Purple, which signifies justice and dignity, is the official IWD color. (art by D. Walton)

 

Today, Dr. Angelou is celebrated as an icon of gender equality and social justice, a humanitarian who led by example, promoting peace, inclusion, unity, tolerance, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and love.

I can’t think of any other modern female poet with a greater gift for oral recitation. She was truly a master of the spoken word — her deep, melodious voice so rich with the joy and pain of vast and varied experience, hard-earned wisdom, and steadfast conviction. She held audiences spellbound at her readings, which many considered moral and spiritual awakenings. All this, from a once mute girl, whose love of poetry, literature, and language enabled her to overcome childhood sexual trauma.

How many of us have “Still I Rise” or “Phenomenal Woman” imprinted on our souls?

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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

 

Some of her poems have indeed become anthems. It’s no wonder she was asked to deliver an original poem (“On the Pulse of Morning”) at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. She was only the second person in American history ever honored in this way (Robert Frost read at JFK’s inauguration in 1961).

Her “public poems” redefined poetry for many, prompting the reluctant to open their minds and listen. Her words had the power to move the masses, even as they touched humble hearts.

The honorary duty of a human being is to love.

A few years ago, I shared “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem,” which she wrote for the White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 2005. It remains one of the most well-visited posts at Alphabet Soup.

I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.

 

 

Today I’m sharing “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote for the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the United Nations (1995). It’s a timeless poem, especially relevant in our current political climate. What would she say, I wonder, about all the hate and divisiveness in our country today? Probably this:

Don’t just complain about the problems you see and do nothing; roll up your sleeves and get to work finding solutions and remedies. We do a disservice to our children and to the future by not addressing the problems that confront us. Nor should our efforts for change be thwarted or stifled by the obstacles arrayed against us.  We must steel ourselves with courage and perseverance and battle on for what is right.

How sorely we need her words of hope right now, her call to action! How empowering to know that as human beings, we have the freedom and ability to choose good over evil.

*

 

“Earthrise” was taken by Apollo 8 Astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968.

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Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou

“But in this season it is well to reassert that the hope of mankind rests in faith. As man thinketh, so he is. Nothing much happens unless you believe in it, and believing there is hope for the world is a way to move toward it.” (Gladys Taber)

“Child with a Dove” by Pablo Picasso (1901)

 

Peace on Earth. Good will toward men.

Like festive greenery, silver bells, or candy canes, these words have come to define the holiday season. We sing them in carols, scribble them in Christmas cards, read them aloud in church.

In this season of love, joy and miracles, PEACE — what we as human beings claim to cherish most — feels ever more elusive.

Each day, as we hear of yet another natural disaster, mass shooting, racially motivated atrocity, or act of domestic violence, our hearts break a little more, and we question everything we do and believe in. What makes sense in a world that seems to be falling apart, when those who lack a moral compass can wield such power? How can some be led so far beyond the limits of human decency?

Moreover, how can we steady our faith and resolve, hold onto hope in the face of adversity and uncertainty?

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friday feast: noshing with maya angelou

This week I’ve been dipping into Maya Angelou’s latest cookbook,
Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart (Random House, 2010). 

Inspired by her recent weight loss (35 pounds), the book features her favorite time-tested recipes and personal anecdotes. Her guiding philosophy is to frequently eat small portions of really tasty, savory food throughout the day, rather than obsess over counting calories or seeking “diet recipes.”

In the section entitled, “Cooking Vegetarian with Courage I,” she includes a satirical poem she wrote back in 1983, a kind of “self defense” prompted by a visit to Ye Olde Health Food Diner in Los Angeles. Although basically carnivorous, one day she craved broccoli and steamed rice. After placing her order, she took out a pack of cigarettes and was surprised when the waitress immediately chastized her for being a smoker.

She looked around at the pale, pitiful customers in the diner and asked the waitress whether they were newcomers, hoping to “get better.” The waitress assured her they were vegetarians who had been eating there for years, to which Maya replied, “Don’t ever tell anyone that these people have been coming here for years, and are still looking no better than they do now.”

THE HEALTH-FOOD DINER
by Maya Angelou

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilau
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I’m dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run

to

Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

Copyright © Maya Angelou. All rights reserved.

*

 

Maya’s poem made me smile and remember a time when health-conscious eaters were called “nuts,” vegetarianism was viewed as a hippie fad, and much of what you could find in a health food store was inedible. Happily, things have changed; Maya hasn’t smoked in over 20 years and is “enchanted with vegetables.” As am I. But I still crave a good burger or plate of ribs every now and then . . .

Here’s Maya’s recipe for cornbread, sure to please vegetarians as well as carnivores. She suggests cutting a piece in half horizontally, inserting a slice of Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese, then heating it in a toaster oven for breakfast. Nice change from cereal!

 

ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT CORN BREAD
(makes 9 squares)

3 T butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups white cornmeal
2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1 T baking powder
1-1/2 cups plus 2 T milk
1 egg, well beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter in an 8-inch square pan.

2. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

3. Stir in 1 cup plus 2 T of the milk and the egg, mixing only enough to dampen the cornmeal mixture.

4. Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup milk over the batter and stir.

5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

*Adapted from Great Food All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart by Maya Angelou (Random House, 2010)
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♥ Anastasia Suen is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Picture Book of the Day. Take her a piece of cornbread. Secret password: Seaweed.

 

**Note: Food photos in this post are not from Maya’s book.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.