This was Maya Angelou’s first book of poetry, published in 1971, two years after her famous novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Everybody knows that Maya Angelou’s writing is hard hitting. That is, she doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics such as race relations and even rape.
One poem from the book titled Miss Scarlett, Mr. Rhett, and the other Latter-Day Saints, for example, is one that sarcastically skewers the hypocrisy of romanticizing the ‘Old South’ in Gone With the Wind. She draws a comparison to that Re-Constructionist landscape and their treatment of blacks to Rome and how they treated Jesus Christ two-thousand years ago.
Miss Scarlett, Mr. Rhett and Other Latter-Day Saints (2nd stanza):
Animated by the human sacrifice
(Golgotha in blackface)
Priests glow purely white on the
bar-relief of a plantation shrine.
Another poem titled My Guilt laments the loss of such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the struggle for Civil Rights. The narrator also expresses guilt seemingly for not doing enough, staying too quiet while those others literally put their lives on the line, lives they ultimately lost in that struggle.
Aside from content, the most remarkable element to the poetry in this collection to me is the rhyme scheme. I just think her rhyming is brilliant. This is my favorite example:
Sepia Fashion Show
Their hair, pomaded, faces jaded
bones protruding, hip-wise,
the models strutted, backed and butted,
then stuck their mouths out, lip-wise
They’d nasty manners, held like banners,
while they looked down their nose-wise.
I’d see ‘em in hell, before they’d sell
me one thing they’re wearing, clothes-wise.
The Black Bourgeois, who all say “yah”
when yeah is what they’re meaning,
should look around, both up and down,
before they set out preening.
“Indeed,” they swear, “that’s what I’ll wear
when I go country-clubbing.”
I’d remind them please, look at those knees,
you got at Miss Ann’s scrubbing.
Final say: 5/5 Stars. If you like had-hitting topics and you like poetry, I say read this book. It won’t disappoint.
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (August 12, 1971)