The Power of Words

When reading Maya Angelou’s poetry, there is a connection in a sense that she speaks to her readers in an abstract way. Her poems possess themes that allow the audience to feel connected and relateable. In her poem “Still I Rise,” she writes about how she overcomes adversity, even in the times when it is as if the world is working against her. In the first stanza, Angelou powerfully begins, stating, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (Angelou). Throughout the poem, she expands on the motifs of resilience and courage. She speaks directly to her opposition and boldly challenges their motives. Speaking from the perspective of an oppressed person, she reiterates the idea that no matter the cruelty, regardless of circumstance and method, the victim will rise up and the slave will overcome adversity. It is a reminder of the abuse of power by those who in the police force, the government and the military. For members of society, the poem echoes repeated and clear messages of hope. No matter the circumstances, there must always and will always be hope to cling on to. Angelou’s poetry has a false stigma particularly when audiences think that it is only meant for an African American audience. A careful reader, however, would notice that she has universal appeal. Her poetry is for anyone who has been maltreated or oppressed in any shape or form. This poem not only empowers people, it educates. Angelou writes about the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. Most importantly, when read by those who understand repeated wrongdoing, the poem becomes an anthem. It becomes a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and oppressed. When deciphered by readers today, many interpret it as their own and incorporate it into spoken word. Spoken word is a performance art that is word-based. It is an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play such as intonation and voice inflection. Spoken word is written on a page but performed for an audience. It relies heavily on use of rhythm, improvisation, rhymes, word play, and slang. Some examples of spoken word are stories, poems, monologues, slam poetry, rap and even stand-up comedy. Artist Smarel Nicole claims that “Maya Angelou was the first person who’s words and story that encouraged me to write as an outlet in elementary school. This poem is just ONE of my favorite of hers. It’s fitting for sooo many life situations” (Nicole 2017). She makes the poem her own and adds her own personal twist to it. She conveys her relation and connection with the poetry using an assertive and brazen tone. Her poetry reaches people in many different ways and dimensions. The abstract way it touches her audience is the essence of Angelou and her work. 

“Still I Rise” – Maya Angelou (Spoken Word by Smarel Nicole)
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