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Top 100 or so Poems -- Phenomenal Woman -- by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou has several poems featured in our "Top 100" poems series.   She is a renaissance woman of sorts, widely considered to be the outstanding voice of black female America through her poetry, plays, essays and memoirs, all immensely popular.

But there is much more to Maya Angelou and her tremendously popular poetry, and that lies in the background of her life experiences, some of which we'll list here:

  • Victim of sexual abuse by her mother's boyfriend, who was ultimately convicted and subsequently murdered.  She spent literally 5 years as a mute as a result; keeping her thoughts trapped inside her brilliant mind.
  • Pimp, Prostitute, night club dancer, during her late teens and early twenties (in the 1950's) she descended into crime and the sexual underworld
  • Successful and popular Calypso Dancer
  • Lived in Africa
  • Wrote, Produced and Narrated for the precursor to PBS
  • Actress alongside such notables as James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge, Cicely Tyson
  • Civil rights organizer for Malcom X, and Martin Luther King
  • Wrote and published several famous Memoirs
  • Popular American Poet
Much of Angelou's later work focuses on social topics such as feminism, black culture, racism - she is considered to be one of the formidable "Voices of Black America" crossing several artistic genres.

I find her work to be interesting, intriguing and very accessible, her poetic style is very simple and straightforward, minimal use of metaphor or complicated word-play - yet able to produce several important messages in a single poem.  Maya has stated the she has always written her poems with the intent that they be read aloud.  Many believe that her writing style is the natural result of compensating "ghetto black" linguistics into "perfect oral English" and critics have stated that Angelou's poetry evokes the African-American oral tradition as exemplified by Martin Luther King.

The poem below is widely considered to be her best poem, and in nearly all published "Top 100" lists, it can usually be found in the top 10.  Enjoy it!

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

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 in 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.

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