Friday, July 29, 2022

Poetry Friday: Maya Angelou Recruits Me to her Girl Gang

Quilt by Chawne Kimber*
from the Renwick Gallery's new exhibit
"This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World"

July's challenge was to compose a phrase acrostic, taken from Maya Angelou's iconic poem, Still I Rise.  If you haven't read it, do that now. And perhaps her amazing bio, too. Only then will you appreciate the audacity of creating a new poem from hers. We spent half our ZOOM time talking about that! 

But in the end, you'll see that each of us came up with a plan to tackle the challenge---Liz chose to repeat one phrase three times, Tanita took a stab at using one phrase for the beginning of lines and one for the ending (double acrostic) and Mary Lee wove Angelou's phrases into her titles, too.  We'll see what everyone else decided...

As for me, I responded most to Angelou's personal voice in the poem, which comes from her own experience, and from a long history of Black experience, but also seems to speak directly to those who would "write (her) down in history" and twist the truth. Which, in turn, made me think of how her words gave her the power to affirm differently. And how, by extension, she also so beautifully invites all of us to tap into that power, too--to join her in her irrepressible rising--you know, for some sort of rowdy, righteous writerly rumble. What would that look like---that recruitment rally for her poet girl gang? 

Yeah, that's how my mind works. Bear with me. Leaning into that theme, I took three phrases (actually lines) from the poem, each five words long. (Okay, one was six words, but I threw the last two together because...see definition of ICONIC.)   

The phrases I used were:

Does my sassiness upset you?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops

But still, like air, I'll rise 

And then, I let Angelou's words stir me up.  As Liz said in the ZOOM chat, this form is fun--if you allow it to carry you away.  We could all do with some of that.   

Maya Angelou Recruits Me to her Girl Gang

Does the day crush you? The years suffocate you?
My poet-baby, you squeeze back. 
Sassiness wells from pain, and eases it, too. 
Upset? Feel set up? Don’t forget: 
You reverse the universe.

Shoulders are for standing upon. Hips are for everything else. 
Falling? So does the night, every day. Stand back up, not
down. You know, ”easily digested” is how they ripped me.
Like my trip-wire timing didn't explode their lies.  
Teardrops are just oil and water. Let them lubricate you.

But don’t stop there. If you want to
still the crowing— the “I know better” undertowing   
(like “poetic virtue” is a thing they own) I swear
air makes fire leaping wide. Burn. Only then
I’ll rise, I’ll break the day, and you, the same as I. 

                    ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved) 

If you want to know more about the artist and the quilt in my photo, see the artist's blog here.

Links to my sister poets' phrase acrostics are below. I marvel at the variation and the power!


If you'd like to look ahead to August's challenge (and perhaps join us?) we're writing Bop Poems.  See here for the rules of the form. 

Poetry Friday is hosted by Marcie Atkins.  



  1. Wow. This is amazing, powerful, and playful. I love the lines "Like my trip-wire timing didn't explode their lies," and the phrase "reverse the universe." Just, wow.

  2. The rhyme in here!! Oh, Sara -- I love what you've done and feel like this should be read on stage!

  3. Sara, Are you reading my mind? How did you know how much I needed this poem today? Especially, "Sassiness wells from pain, and eases it, too." Then you gave me this line,
    "Falling? So does the night, every day. Stand back up" It's been a rough summer for me. I lost my father and my mother is beginning to fade into Alzheimer's. I'm not sure how much more I can take. But yours and Maya's words combine to help me see I will rise. I will be OK. Thanks!

  4. YAY! You kept that wonderful line: "Shoulders are for standing on. Hips are for everything else." THAT needs to go on a t-shirt. I LOVE, love, love this whole thing. I love how you took your idea and articulated it so fully and beautifully. I'd totes join this girl gang. Here's to reversing the friggin' universe.

  5. Wow! Amazing. So powerful. And also, I love that picture from the Renwick. It's one of my favorite museums and the one I recommend the most to people. I need to get there soon!

  6. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES! Such gorgeous language and what a quilt to illustrate. Wow.

  7. This poem makes my heart sing...just the thought of a personal invitation to that Girl Gang. And that quilt...oh, my goodness. It was made for this poem and vice versa.

  8. Yasss, Sara. So good! And I agree with Tanita about the t-shirt. Your poem reminds me a bit, sentiment-wise, of John Murillo's "Contemporary American Poetry."

  9. Just wow. You crushed this and created something so beautiful and stirring. I feel more powerful just reading this poem. Thank you for this.

  10. DANG, Sara. Honored and claimed and flaunted and scored and rescored for the present moment--we can all join this badass gang! Quilt is something, also.


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