“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”- Maya Angelou
In my hometown, we have the greatest second hand book store. I'd read some poetry and shorts by Maya Angelou in school, and wanted to see what I could pick up to read over the summer of my 18th year of life, now many moons ago. The bookstore employee pointed me in the direction I needed to go, and I began to dig. Long before the days of smart phones, I had to rely on picking through the novel and the reviews written on the soft covered back and inside pages. That hot summer day, I had picked up the book that would change the way I interpreted written word. I'd always loved to read- I mean duh. I could've been at the college parties down the street that day with my friends, but I tried to keep a balance between my want to party like an 18 year old, and being the introverted soul that I was. For less that $2, I'd left with a heavily loved copy of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", a brilliant and heartfelt autobiography by Maya Angelou. This book is a must read for everyone, because Dr. Angelou can bring you into a place and time like very few authors can- offering a release from reality. Although it is an autobiography, it reads like a fiction novel, telling tales of Angelou's early life in Stamps, Arkansas. In the book she tells stories of living in a segregated area of the south, long before the Civil Rights Movements, during the great depression. She was sent by train and literally tagged with postage and papers to travel alone with her slightly older brother when they were abandoned by their parents. Sent to their grandmother, who would raise them in the rural farming community where her grandmother owned the general store that served the black community. From gospel lessons, to racism, to rape, to harassment, to being a mute, to surviving the great depression and being considered "rich" during a time where people went hungry, there are very important lessons to be read.
A book that will pull every heart string you have and take you to experience life with young Maya, you will feel the heat of the Arkansas summer on a frilly dress after church. Maya's words allow the reader to feel her emotions. You can smell her grandma's cooking and hear the speech of the native poor black culture, where they were just trying to survive the great depression and the harsh realities of being black in the south. Her gift with words and ability to express her stories through writing is something that few authors possess, particularly from a personal angle. If you haven't read it, I hope you consider it. If you've read it, let me know!
“One afternoon in the summer of 1994 I was driving to work and I heard Garrison Keillor read Stephen Dunn’s poem ‘Tenderness’ on The Writer’s Almanac. After he finished the poem I pulled my car over and sat for some time. I had to. That is why I write poems. I want to make somebody else late for work.” - Erik Campbell
In short, it is my goal to write in this way also. When I read Erik Campbell's poems, I am so touched by his work. I read his work around midnight every night, when my mind is going at 100 mph, and everything is quiet except for the humming of my macbook and the dissonance in the way my fingers type. And after three or seven hours, depending on how desperate I was to produce something worth reading, I would finish. I could finally lay down and await the form rejection letter waiting in my inbox the next time I opened my eyes.
I want to write like Campbell. Like Dunn. Those kind of poems and stories that make you have to sit back and contemplate your life. Those kinds of poems that make you feel like you haven't read anything as good, nor will again, in a long time.
Until I get to that point, I have been trying to ease my heart and mind, telling myself that I still have a ways to go. Not everyone can be Stephen Dunn. Not everyone can write like Robert Frost, whose poems are almost over read. Neil Gaiman said that everyone has a story to tell, but what if you don't know how to tell stories?
That's where my insomnia usually begins.
“I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
can happen to you.”
“Oh, the places you'll go!
There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored.
There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame you'll be famous,
as famous as can be,
with everyone watching you win on TV,
Except when they don't
because sometimes they won't
I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.”
“And when you're alone
there's a very good chance
you'll meet things
that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road
between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much
you won't want to go on.”
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any direction you choose
You're on your own
And you know what you know
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go.”
Four year old me
look up and see
the world around her
the things there can be
the things I dream of
stories, birds, and bees,
things that'll keep me going
the things that made me, Me.
-Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
This is THE book
More Real in Vital Inquiry
Take a Look—
This is THE Book
We are Writing
All these Characters
These here Actors
So many Authors
Into the Atmosphere
Emotions at Hearts Tear
In awe these Selves Stare
And from where ever we Look
Poetry and Prose is Our Book
In Praise of Words
I can't say there was any one book or poem that made me love reading - my parents read to me from the time I was born, and I've been an avid self-reader since I was about four years old. Growing up, a lot of what I read was science fiction, and my imagination took flight with stories that took me into outer space, to new planets, inside the human body, or introduced me to aliens and species I had never before encountered. I still love the genre, and it is my preferred form for writing, as well.
There is one poem, though, that has haunted me ever since I encountered it; and perhaps it, more than any other work, made me aware of how beautiful words themselves could be and how, together, those words could create an unforgettable scene. That work was the sonnet “Ozymandias," written by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and first published in the 11 January 1818 issue of The Examiner in London. Its words, though written 199 years ago, are as vivid and true today as they were then. In his hubris, Ozymandias feeds upon the hearts of his people while building such magnificent structures that he proclaims, "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Yet as the poem's traveller sees the wreck of the king's statue in the desert, he notes that "nothing beside remains." Whatever he was, whatever he built, Ozymandias has been forgotten by Time. It is a cautionary tale to those of us who would think we are like gods in our demeanor and endeavors. It would be a good poem for our current president to read and commit to memory. We are all but players on a stage, to quote Shakespeare, and we are all subject to the ravages of Time.
#Ozymandias #reading #amwriting #Time
I was read to in the cradle. By the time I was three, I had a stack of "Little Golden Books" as tall as myself; I remember Sambo and Hans Brinker and a host of international dolls on parade in those books. At six I read to the others in my kindergarten class and my first novel was "The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore", followed, at nine by "The Wizard of Oz".
I can't pick one that brought me to words, but the creation of my own words started, one night, in First grade. To that point, I had become proficient at the recognition of printed words and sounds, but hadn't really locked onto the most basic part of word formation.
That day, I had a list of spelling words as homework, one of which was L-O-O-K. Lying in bed, I sleepily mumbled to myself, "Look, L-O-O-K, look." Suddenly, it was a word; a word I had made, myself, from independent letters.
It opened a world of creativity for me and I've never stopped being amazed by it. My watch words could be "when in doubt, LOOK."
Or just "LOOK"!
I have always enjoyed reading. Well, perhaps not always, though I do have an early memory of myself looking over an alphabet book in the den of our house in Gresham even after my mother had left. I recall she brought me in and showed me the letters, and I kept looking. I must admit my memory consists largely of the picture of a lion, not necessarily including the L that must have been there also. At that age it is perhaps unsurprising that the picture most caught my interest. Given this beginning, and the frequent attempts I made to turn every toy into a flying car, or a launchpad for the same, that I made in our basement family room, one might suppose I would have been drawn to fiction early on. This is not the case.
I had somewhere formed the opinion that reading fiction was ridiculous. I was too 'grown up' for it even as I fought imaginary hordes of enemies in my own yard with sticks. There is still an unfortunate blight on a particular tree at our old house, one that otherwise would look like the perfect Christmas tree, at about shoulder level to my seven or eight-year-old self. I had no idea that the tree would learn not to grow new branches over the spot where they kept getting beaten by a stick. I didn't know trees were that smart. I would climb up the two taller trees in the front yard and shoot imaginary bows at people. Somehow I had the good sense not to actually use my dad's bow, although the thought did cross my mind. Good sense notwithstanding, this may have had more to do with his ability at hiding than my caution.
In any case, I remained convinced of the total waste of space that fiction was until the fifth grade. We read often during class in my school. I had occasionally forgotten my book, and since the other books on the shelf were short and often taken by other students, I one day took the dictionary to my desk to read during reading time because if you did not have a book you got no participation points. I surprised myself by enjoying reading it, and used the same trick many times over the years.I did try to keep it as a last resort however, and by fifth grade I felt I was running low on options from the nonfiction section of our school library. I should mention that while our nonfiction section there was very small, I had not even come close to reading every book in it. What I had done was read every book that caught my eye. There were still some I was considering reading, but I was not excited about them.
I had never asked a librarian for help or recommendations before, but we had recently had a library event of some kind where she offered to help us find a book. I asked.
I was very disappointed when she took me to the right-hand side of the library, which was all fiction. I don’t recall now whether I had mentioned my desire for a practical book, one I could learn from, or not. If I did she did not take it the way I meant it. She brought me straight to “Mossflower” by Brian Jacques. I took the book only because I felt that it would be impolite not to. The characters were all animals. I started to read it during reading time in class for similar reasons to why I had read the dictionary. I loved it. My activities underwent a radical change around that time. My trips to the nearby woods were much less frequent, and when I went I was more likely to be thinking about Martin the Warrior or tyrannical wild cats than just rambling.
At night my family would find me reading by flashlight under the old pool table that was normally covered in clean laundry by my mother in an attempt to get us to fold our own. I took books on vacation with me, and the Redwall books ( of which Mossflower is either the first or the prequel) were devoured in two days or so each. This is somewhat more expressive of the degree to which I had changed my mind about fiction if you know that the books averaged 400 pages or so and I was only in the fifth grade at the time.
Reading has always been enjoyable for me, but I have had to learn to be careful about letting it take over my life. The worlds those books brought to life for me did teach me quite a bit, but as I have grown older I have had to remember to do my own living in this world. The stunts I pulled in the woods, and elsewhere, remind me that this world has its own share of adventure.
I adored and devoured her novels. Her confidence in surprising the reader with new vocabulary, challenging us to pick up dictionaries and bookmark certain words, eagerly asking us to engage and allow her to expand our, apparently and comparably limited, lexicon.
She wrote homoerotic novels featuring incestuous wizards, some of which lamed by magic.
Her books still nestle comfortably beside Faulkner and David Foster Wallace. I keep the many post-its of learned words taped to the inside of their hard covers.
The book that most changed my life is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the whole series, in fact. It's a book that tells you, "yes, the universe is an awesomely confusing, disconcerting, scary place, but it's going to be okay." Because of its wit, the book got me interested in how Douglas Adams (the author) created these sentences in such fantastic and humorous ways that make me smile and made me change how I view life, the universe, and everything. I would be a totally different person if I hadn't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.