Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

When it came to choosing a poem for the month of May I wondered if I should seek out something Portuguese to compliment the ramble to Lisbon, and I did spend quite some time pondering over a bilingual collection of poetry in Ler Devagar, an utterly wonderful bookshop to be found in Lisbon’s LX Factory.

However, a couple of days after returning home I coordinated an event as part of Liverpool Light Night which brought together women of all ages and backgrounds to read aloud quotes, extracts and poetry from women authors, poets, scientists, world leaders and campaigners to celebrate the centenary of some women getting the right to vote. It was overwhelming and so inspiring to watch those women stand up and raise their voice to something so heartfelt or thoughtful or funny or important. It celebrated the diversity and complexity of women, the joys and trials of love, friendship, motherhood, career, family, the female body, and ageing, gracefully or otherwise.

There were so many wonderful words, so much pain and power and empowerment, none so much as the iconic words of Maya Angelou which were recited on the night with such passion and pride. It’s a night I’ll hold dear for many, many years.

Phenomenal Woman

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

by Maya Angelou

Originally published on The Poetry Foundation.

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