Ships? Sure I’ll Sail Them by Maya Angelou

My introduction to the glorious Maya Angelou came at the hand of my A Level English teacher who included individual hand picked poems in our leaving cards. I was quite surprised at just how perfect the poem in question was for me. It felt as though my teacher had pinned me down in literary verse, something she did for each individual in that class.

Reading Ships? again now I’m still struck by just how apt it was, and continues to be for the ‘just you watch’ attitude that seems my default setting when faced with doubt or scepticism of my ability. There’s a throwaway freedom in this poem which I wish I could emulate more often. “Life? ‘Course I’ll live it” is the attitude I wish I could tackle each day with, but more often than not I’m tired, distracted, appeased by sedentary habits. Sadly too, I must admit, that I’ve learnt how to spell failure the hard way, but it’s a lesson that’s not dampened my fortitude.

When she clipped this poem into the good luck card which went on to grace the walls of my student halls room, that teacher caught a snapshot of my younger and bolder self, whom I hope to always live up to, as well as a love for the work of Maya Angelou. Having since read her earliest memoirs and witnessed the woman stand alongside Barrack Obama at his inauguration, this poem has taken on greater meaning and significance for me, something of a symbol for what you can achieve regardless or rather, in spite of, your background or upbringing.

We are only three poems into this slapdash collection of personal favourites but already it seems, the poet is often as inspiring as the poem. If you haven’t read her poetry before I implore you to go immediately to the nearest second hand bookshop and purchase a collection. And while you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for any of the six (yes, six) volumes of Angelou’s autobiographical writings, beginning with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which will both break and lift your heart.* She is a truly incredible woman who lived a truly awe-inspiring life.

You can expect to see her name crop up in this collection again sometime soon.

Ships? Sure I’ll Sail Them

Sure I’ll sail them
Show me the boat,
If it’ll float,
I’ll sail it.

Yes, I’ll love them.
If they’ve got style,
to make me smile,
I’ll love them.

‘Course I’ll live it.
Just enough breath,
Until my death,
And I’ll live it.

I’m not ashamed to tell it,
I’ve never learned to spell it,
Not Failure.

Maya Angelou

* On reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: During a quiet shift at my old bar job I muscled my way through much of this book, begrudgingly putting it down on the odd occasion someone disturbed my peace in the want of a drink. But at one point in the narrative I was compelled to put the book down immediately, and to walk away from it in distress. If you’re familiar with the Friends episode where Joey has to put The Shining in the fridge, you’ll know what I’m describing. Angelou has written honestly and openly about some of the horrific abuse which she endured as a very young child and it really is harrowing. Be prepared.

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