Book Review – I Shall Not Be Moved by Maya Angelou

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: August 17th, 2011
Publisher: Random House

“We have lived a painful history, we know the shameful past, but I keep on moving forward, and you keep on coming last. Equality, and I will be free.”

It is difficult to pin a specific emotion to this collection, if even there is one. Angelou’s poetry contains the chemical potency of all emotions. From rage to rapture, the soul of her work remains bared.
I Shall Not Be Moved is more confrontational by nature, however. The last book I read by her, And Still I Rise, was more about creating something good from out of the ashes – renewal. By comparison, this collection is more focused on never letting yourself fall in the first place. Tugging at the roots of one’s unhappiness to see what the source could be and what treatment will be needed. Never giving detractors and bigots the pleasure of seeing you crumble.

Angelou’s commentary on bigotry is biting. To break the surface tension of such flowing prose is to unveil an absolutely brutal put-down of prejudice and those who perpetuate it through racism and fundamentalism. Bigotry is crueler than a lie, but controlling someone with false promises may outdo both. Ritualism and tradition for tradition’s sake, along with unchecked anger leads to a lot of ingrained prejudices, and eventually it no longer is a spiritual thing anymore but becomes more of an unwarranted punishment on people who often don’t deserve it.

“Preacher, please don’t promise me streets of gold and milk for free. I stopped all milk at four years old and once I’m dead I won’t need gold.”

Not all of these pieces are going to resonate with everyone. That may be the hardest part of doing justice to good poetry, no matter how long you’ve been a part of the genre. There are a few I didn’t really like or relate to, but that’s going to happen. It’s a given. Poetry is so individual that if there wasn’t at least one that didn’t have an effect, it would be strange, even with a writer as powerful with prose as Maya Angelou. My path is not hers and it can’t ever be, so some little nuances were lost on me.
That being said, as a collective experience it stands perfectly, like a finished jigsaw puzzle. Carrying on the message from And Still I Rise, this book is a new goodness formed from the leftover bones of old hardships.

“We grow despite the horror that we feed upon our own tomorrow.”

Quotes

  • “The man who is a bigot is the worst thing God has got, except his match, his woman, who really is Ms. Begot.”
  • “They kneel alone in terror with dread at every glance. Their nights are threatened daily by a grim inheritance. You dwell in whitened castles with deep and poisoned moats and cannot hear the curses which fill your children’s throats.”

 

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