Political Poetry: How Maya Angelou’s Poetry Promoted Unity and Individual Rights Amidst the Fight for Equality   

Maya Angelou was an adored memoirist, actress, director, and a poet. As a writer, she adapted her life into literature that both inspires and encourages others to confront racism, classism, sexism, and discrimination. Through her poetry, she can project themes of love, survival, hope, and determination. As she shared her struggles and difficult upbringing with her readers with, arguably, no filter, Angelou transcends normal bounds of poetry into a career that reaches every corner of the world.

Political poets lend their voices to shed light or perspective on current events and elections. Their goal is to critique and defend social and political issues, making it more tangible for people to understand. Angelou’s voice is heard discussing civil rights for Black people as she marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She writes amid the Black Feminist Movement, discussing how the Feminist Movement targets the equal treatment for White women but Black women have a different struggle. Black feminism is a fight for Black women’s autonomy. Her poetry voices genuine issues Black people faced daily, and her platform allows her to be the voice of the voiceless.

Her career has led her to speak at engagements for prominent people and moments in history. She was the inauguration poet for former President Bill Clinton in 1993. Her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” challenged people to come from hiding and face the truth our history shows us. Face the destiny if we do not choose to lose the hatred spirits that plague the nation. Poems such as this epitomize her efforts to call out the injustice and fight for change and enlightenment through her words.

Maya Angelou is not directly associated with any major poetry movement and her first book of poetry does not garner much critical response, even though it was written during the Black Arts Movement. I will discuss her art as a political poet, which reflects her activism through many decades of her career. Her poetry does not fit into one category, but she inspires and creates spaces for everyone through many social movements. With her art viewed as political poetry, I will discuss her activism, her fight for the Black woman’s autonomy, and how her experiences promote a message for hope which may not reflect the aggressive nature of Black Arts Movement poets.

Maya Angelou is a Free-style poet who does not conform to a traditional style of poetry. Instead, her blunt and honest recollection of her life, and the lives around her, provides a platform for her to speak uncomfortable truths. She has one political poem, but I argue we can view her collection as political poetry because her art reflects life and the major social movements of her time. This interests me because, in my research, there is not a plethora of critical conversation surrounding Angelou’s poetry. Conversations surround her autobiographies, namely Why the Caged Bird Sings. This novel is jarring and has been on the banned book list because it allegedly was hateful towards White people. Her autobiographies are renowned, but I want to conduct a critical conversation that shows the depth and artistry behind her poems as political statements.

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