When I heard about her passing this morning, I knew the poem of the week had to be from Maya Angelou. She had her hands in so many different things, that poet is just one stop on a list of all her titles. I don’t feel like she’s doing anything groundbreaking with the form of her poetry–most of the poems I sampled at the Poetry Foundation website were free verse, paragraph-like stanzas with lines that seem to just enclose each phrase as it comes. If I were to try to put out poems like Angelou’s, it would seem pretty sappy and probably not too genuine, but it’s not me trying to put them out. The strength of Maya Angelou’s writing, I think is how her graces as a human being seem to shine through in her words. I just missed out on seeing her in person twice, but from what I can tell, she had a presence that comforted and inspired. In all her poems that I went back and read today, there is an honest look at the harshness of this world and all its pain, but there is also always an equally powerful image of hope and redemption. You can feel when you read her work that Angelou is not just a Hallmark writer peddling feel-good cliches. This woman has felt pain and emerged, thrived even.
In the poem I chose, “Kin,” the speaker seems to be talking with a family member or maybe even an ancestor who has seen some sort of battle. Pay attention to how the references to war are similar to the references to civilian life, how they mix. I think she might be getting at how tragic events echo through time, how even the images we see now that don’t have to do with pain or war, in some ways, call back to it. Based on two or three allusions, I think the speaker may be talking about someone from the Civil War. What do you think?
Give this poem a read: Kin by Maya Angelou : The Poetry Foundation.