Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm a Woman (Peggy Lee)

From yesterday's Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Maya Angelou, (books by this author) born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri (1928), the author of six autobiographical volumes, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). As a teenager, she and her mom and brother moved to San Francisco. There she became a streetcar conductor, the first black person and the first woman to be one there. She was only 16. A few months after graduating from high school, she gave birth to a son. Later, she married a Greek sailor named Tosh Angelos and began using a variation of his surname — Angelou — for her stage name at the Purple Onion cabaret in San Francisco, where she was a calypso dancer. She toured Europe as a dancer in a government-sponsored production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and when she returned to the U.S., she settled in New York City, where she performed off-Broadway, sang at the Apollo Theater, and started going to meetings of the Harlem Writer's Guild. She met James Baldwin and Jules Feiffer, who thought that she should write about her life in the manner that she spoke, in the "same rhythmical cadences with which she mesmerized" her friends and others with whom she interacted. She did, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The sixth volume of her autobiography, A Song Flung Up to Heaven, came out in 2002.

A multitude of TV appearances have me wishing to one day see/hear Ms. Angelou in person, as she has the most melodic voice, serene wisdom and inspirational manner - below is one of my favorite poems of hers, which seems to fully embody her spirit and self-confidence (and, in my new walking and nutrition program, I'm re-discovering my Phenomenal Womanhood as well... :-)

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
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
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 the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

QUOTE: "When we know better, we do better." ~ Maya Angelou

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