protip: don’t judge Maya Angelou’s poetry if you aren’t familiar with it

So I alluded to this in my last post, but it’s worth making it more explicit: unless you can name three of Maya Angelou’s collections without Googling, and unless you are familiar with her work from before, say, 1990, you probably shouldn’t be publicly critiquing her work. Because the initial wave of commemoration for her death has given way to the inevitable spasm of “oh god she’s the WORST” backlash. And hey, that’s OK. If you’re annoyed by her public persona, fine. If you think that people are being fake in mourning her now when they didn’t read her work when she was alive, OK. If you disagree with her politics, great. If you are significantly familiar with her work and don’t like it, that’s OK too– and I especially understand if you specifically don’t like her late period work, where she is most frequently guilty of exaggerating her own style. But if you don’t know her work, it’s probably best not to offer an opinion on it. Don’t fake cultural literacy. You don’t do yourself or anyone else any favors. If you’re like most people and never read poetry, you don’t have to have an aesthetic opinion on this particular poet. If you want to get acquainted with Angelou’s work, I recommend Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?

3 Comments

  1. I come at this from a slightly different angle. I was put off to all the paeans to her from media people who, when she was alive, gave her maybe 90 seconds of airtime every four years at an inaugural, or bloggers who put off their spittle-flecked rants long enough to act like her work was important to them. Please. Just more signaling. I reached my limit when, for the fifth or sixth time, a talking head informed me what a national treasure she was by quoting the same goddamned quote that everybody else was quoting: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” Our national treasure in fourteen words, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

    Myself, I’m not a reader of poetry, so her passing wasn’t especially meaningful to me. But I do have a bit of relevant experience; way back in the college days I roomed with an English major for a few years and, by golly, some people really do read poetry (and Joyce, for crying out loud). The rest of us are bullshitting when we pretend to more than a cursory dip of the toes.

  2. I’m actually a huge fan of Angelou, so this isn’t going to be relevant to this post. I’m leaving this comment here because the post to which I’d rather reply has comments off. Pardon my disrespect. Feel free to delete this comment.

    With all due respect, how do you square your radical views with your investment in the nuclear family? I’ve been one of your readers for years (and have commented under a variety of names), and I’m consistently mystified by how you deal with the cognitive dissonance. The ‘weight of evolution and biological drive’ is a non-starter. You reject the discourse of the natural and the evolutionary in other conversations (e.g., IQ hereditarianism), but you seem all too happy to accept it here.

    I must say that I don’t understand your critique of so-called ‘traditional’ masculinity–as if there are non-destructive alternative forms of masculinity? For those of us who view gender as a socially constructed system of power relations, all masculinity is the performance of ritualised dominance and has no part in a free society. It cannot be reformed; it can only be destroyed. (More on this perspective here: http://www.troubleandstrife.org/new-articles/talking-about-gender/) It almost seems to me that all this trendy talk of ‘alternative masculinities’ is a way for nerdy men to seize their share of male privilege, whilst announcing to the world that they are ‘not like the other boys’.

    For all of your railing against traditional masculinity, you seem very much attached to the institutions of heterosexuality and PIV. Apart from a few posts exploring liberal ‘consent culture’, I have never seen you attempt to square your radical stances with your wish to use women as human toilets. Surely as someone with radical positions, you must be familiar with the critiques by radical women of male-centred sexuality (http://witchwind.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/piv-is-always-rape-ok/ http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/the-intercourse-series/ http://thearcticfeminist.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/domestication/ https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3dD4VR6trTUMzYzZTExNmMtY2FlMC00MjlhLTg1ZjItYjFhNGMzMWNlMGIx/edit?hl=en&authkey=CN6ixb8C&pli=1)?

    Conservative men see women as private property; liberal men see women as public property. How do you, as a radical man, synthesise your revolutionary economic views with your deeply retrograde desires for family and heterosexual companionship? Again, I’m a huge fan of yours and none of this is intended to be adversarial.

    1. With all due respect, how do you square your radical views with your investment in the nuclear family?

      I’m not invested in the nuclear family. If “wanting to have kids someday” is all it takes to be declared someone who’s invested in the nuclear family, that term has no meaning.

      The ‘weight of evolution and biological drive’ is a non-starter.

      That animals, generally, have a biological drive to procreate is not at all a non-starter; it is a fact of nature. That many individual humans have no desire to have heterosexual sex, procreative sex, or sex at all– and that this is a perfectly legitimate and equal way to live– has no bearing on that fact of nature.

      You reject the discourse of the natural and the evolutionary in other conversations (e.g., IQ hereditarianism), but you seem all too happy to accept it here.

      Suggesting that the existence of a biological drive to procreate is of similar evidentiary caliber to spurious race-IQ connections is absurd and, frankly, racist.

      It almost seems to me that all this trendy talk of ‘alternative masculinities’ is a way for nerdy men to seize their share of male privilege, whilst announcing to the world that they are ‘not like the other boys’.

      That comment is a way to get a typical heterosexist/masculinist jab in at “nerdy” men while you purportedly are attacking that kind of attitude. You can’t critique masculinity as a concept while you utilize the masculinist insult that is inherent to the word nerdy.

      For all of your railing against traditional masculinity, you seem very much attached to the institutions of heterosexuality and PIV

      I am attached to human sexual, romantic, and personal freedom, which for many, many people includes heterosexual sex.

      Apart from a few posts exploring liberal ‘consent culture’, I have never seen you attempt to square your radical stances with your wish to use women as human toilets.

      Equating heterosexual sex with using women as human toilets is not only bizarre and ugly, it’s actively sexist.

      Surely as someone with radical positions, you must be familiar with the critiques by radical women of male-centred sexuality

      I am intimately familiar with them. I reject them. I share that attitude with many feminist women.

      Conservative men see women as private property; liberal men see women as public property.

      Many of them don’t, actually.

      How do you, as a radical man, synthesise your revolutionary economic views with your deeply retrograde desires for family and heterosexual companionship?

      Sexual freedom is one of the most profoundly radical commitments in human history. The right for all human beings– male, female, transgender, gender queer, intersex, straight, gay, bisexual, or other– to engage in informed, adult, consensual sex free of the burden of pregnancy, coercion, or social judgement, as well as the right to refrain from sex entirely, are some of the most important forms of human flourishing we have, and a natural and necessary part of any radical future. To attack sexual pleasure in total is the opposite of radical; it is reactionary.

      Again, I’m a huge fan of yours and none of this is intended to be adversarial.

      Neither of those things are true, and in fact I suspect that you are not some radical feminist but are rather one of the bizarre revanchist conservatives who congregate around my blog like flies, and you’ve put on this cute persona to make some sort of lame, muddle point.

      And now that you’ve reminded me why I turned off comments in the first place, I’ll turn them off on this post.

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