My sister Clarissa was one of my favorite orators in our drama club. She was hilarious during practice. We would all laugh as she joked around or did some funny gesture. The teacher sometimes didn’t like it because we tended to join in with Clarissa and her antics.I loved it.
At first I wasn’t even in the drama club. I just showed up to watch the performances. This was no normal club. All of us were black children and we did traditional black poetry; Langston, Maya, Countie. I loved Langston. Eventually Clarissa’s hilarious actions had me joining in on the fun with everyone else and the next thing I knew I had memorized something and was performing it for everyone.
I went to a famous historic black school. I mean old, it was the original Yates school before Yates became a school. Before the Civil Rights Era it was called James D. Ryan School for Coloreds. There was a worn out plaque in the entrance someone had tried to scratch out. I took a picture in front of it once, smiling and pointing with my friend Nicole. Our school was slightly modern but in the 3rd ward neighborhood there was certain things black children learned and did by way of tradition. How to Step, How to Orate, How to Debate, How to Sing a Gospel Song like you Deserved to Be On Stage, and How to Pray. All the keys to eloquence.
My teachers would put me in play after play. My family and my teachers would make me dress up to go to Museums to orate a speech or a poem. My friends and I would make up dances and step it out in front of the school. My Uncle would make us kids sing like we knew what we was doing at church. The frilly socks, the super done up hair, and the attitude to boot. Those were the funny, black traditions a young child was taught in the historically black neighborhood I grew up in and at the historically black school I went to.
Oratory competitions was my thang!
I think it helped me to be the person I am today. These powerful poems and the awareness of black history, it helped me along the way. It gave me a foundation of what I believed in, what I thought was fair, how I wanted to see the world, how I wanted to be treated.
I will make a grammar mistake like anyone can do. But when I really mean business, I can get my point across. I love to remember and perform poetry. My own now a days.
Even when I went to my first year of college I spent what money the school I was working at gave me for free books on Langston Hughes poetry. I loved a new poetry book from San Francisco’s Marcus Books which catered to black authors. I would sit in my living room remembering by heart Langston’s poetry and performing for myself since no one was around
Sometimes when the children were good in my class room, I taught visual and expressive arts in the historically black neighborhood of Bay View at an elementary school, I would perform for them. They ate it up, they loved it. One of my favorite poems I will never forget by Langston was called Suicides Note, it simply goes: The calm cool face of the River asked me for a kiss.
Not only because it was easy to remember, simply a sentence, but he brought the River to life and maintained that the River wanted him. The spirits in it’s depths wanted him and he kissed the River.
I don’t think I told the children what the name of the Poem was. 🙂
Our drama club, the one I was at first a spectator in at school, had only a few girls. Priscilla, Clarissa’s and I childhood friend was a helpful ringleader of the foolishness we drummed up. After drama club we would go to my grandmother’s porch and make up dance steps with the radio blaring and our ice cream melting and my bag of hot chips all over my fingers. Our drama club also had about one or two guys. I forgot his name for now but I know we had no since of what managomy or jelousy was. We used to practice kissing him and I tell you I only did it once and I don’t think I kissed another boy for a while after that because I thought it was so gross.
The girls remembered one poem in particular. I don’t think we could truly eloquently put into words why we all personally thought this poem was important to remember but we just did and kept it to ourselves. The poem was Maya Angleou’s Phenomenal Woman. We blared it, our hands on our hips as we performed it, walking sassy across the stage. I Am a Woman Pheno-na-ma-na-ly! Phenomenal Woman That’s Me!
My sister was really good at this poem. We didn’t laugh when she performed it, we watched. I think our drama teacher was calmer when she performed it. She certainly didn’t have an annoyed look on her face when she did. Another favorite of ours was Fire by Langston Hughes, the guy we kissed performed this one so well. Like he was about to get smote. His hands in the air over his head, a pleading in his loud clear voice. Begging and unbelieving that he could be burned by fire in hell.
However Phenomenal Woman, I will always remember that poem. How important it was for me. How important it is for me. I think I once shared it with the children of my art class. In front of all of those beautiful black boys and girls in my class. My voice ringing out: I am a Woman!
Now I am learning French. My tutor told me to do things I would normally do in French if I would like to become better at speaking. I love to read poetry. I love to read Alice, Tony, Tananarive, Octavia, Langston. I love to read. I love to read more than I would like to see a movie or video. So I pulled up this poem for you. A reminder for us all. No matter your race, age, or beliefs. No matter if you are a woman or a man or a transgender person. I think this poem has something to teach us all. I think this poem matters even to feminist and womanist (some might not like the note on high heels). It is a triumphant cry with defining verses opening doors or perception and the bare bones truth.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
And because I would like to get better and make myself and my tutor smile 🙂
PAR MAYA ANGELOU
Merveille de jolies femmes là toute mon secret. Je ne suis pas mignon ou construit pour adapter la taille de mannequin, mais quand je commence à leur dire :
Ils pensent que je suis dire des mensonges. Je le dis, C’est dans la portée de mes bras, La durée de mes hanches, l’enjambée de ma démarche, la courbure de mes lèvres. Je suis une femme Phénoménal.
Je rentre dans une chambre Tout aussi cool que vous s’il vous plaît et à un homme, Les boursiers debout ou Tomber à genoux. Puis ils pullulent autour de moi, Une ruche d’abeilles. Je le dis, C’est le feu dans mes yeux, et le flash de mes dents, le swing dans ma taille, et la joie dans mes pieds.
Je suis une femme Phénoménal.
Les hommes eux-mêmes sont demandent ce qu’ils voient en moi. Ils essaient tant de choses Mais ils ne peuvent pas toucher Mon mystère intérieur. Quand j’essaye de leur montrer, ils disent qu’ils n’est pas visible. Je le dis, C’est dans l’arc de mon dos, le soleil de mon sourire, Le trajet de mes seins, La grâce de mon style.
Je suis une femme Phénoménal.
Maintenant vous comprenez Juste pourquoi ma tête n’est pas courbée. Je ne pas crier ou sauter sur Ou dois parler vrai fort. Quand vous me voyez en passant, Il devrait vous rendre fiers. Je le dis, C’est en cliquant sur mes talons, la courbe de mes cheveux, la paume de ma main, le besoin de mes soins. Parce que je suis une femme Phénoménal.