Great Songs From The Poets: Maya Angelou & Irving Layton

There are so many poets whose poetry I have loved reading over the years.

The first poetry I read was Canadian poetry, which makes sense since I am Canadian.

There are 2 poems in particular that have gone round & round in my head over the years, because they both touched my heart & spirit truly, madly, deeply. Simply put, they resonate.

A long time ago, I had the very good fortune of hearing Irving Layton read out loud at a poetry reading in Concordia University’s Hall building. Much has been said about Irving Layton, his infamous love life (with his 5 wives and sundry other lovers) and his very healthy ego.

But how the man could read! You could hear a pin drop in the cavernous university auditorium. The power of his voice just reverberated & reverberated through-out the hall. And the poem that touched me most was the ode to his sister, titled Senile My Sister Sings.

Another powerful poet I hope to hear live one day is Maya Angelou. I´ve heard recordings of her beautiful poems, but I just know there is a special magic to hearing her poetic voice live. One of my favorite of her poems is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Two very different songs, from two very different yet powerfully compelling poets.

I thought I would share both poems with you today.

Anima Blue


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
~ Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the win
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and is tune is heard
on the distant hillfor the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


Senile, My Sister Sings
~ Irving Layton

Senile, my sister sings. She sings
the same snatch of song over and over
in a quivering voice, her lips trembling
when she tries for the high notes. Her white
hair close-cropped like a prisoner’s
and her unobstructed tongue lolling
over her furrowed lip while her dentures
grin at us through a glass of water,
my sister is some kind of vocal chicken,
especially when her small raisin eyes dart
from visitor to visitor as though about
to pluck worms out of their garments.
My heart breaks remembering her beauty
and wit, the full mouth with a tale in it
she finally exploded in our ears.
Is this my sister so frail and emaciated,
whose valour and go were family legends,
her smiles so dazzling they made the roaches
leisurely roaming the walls of our kitchen
scurry behind the torn wallpaper
to hide there till the incandescence had passed?

Sing, my dear sister, sing
though your trembling lips break my heart
and I turn away from you to sob
and let the tears course down my cheeks,
my grief held back by pride and even a kind
of exultance. You do not moan or whimper,
you do not grovel before the Holy Butcher
and beg Him to spare you days; or rock
silently like the other white-haired biddies
waiting to be plucked from their stoops. No,
though His emissary ominously flaps his wings
to enfold you in their darkness, you sing.
Your high-pitched note must rile him
more than rage or defiance. You sing him
no welcome, and if your voice trembles
it’s not fear or resignation he hears
but the cracked voice of the élan vital
whose loudest chorister you are, abashing Death
and making him sulk in his own shadow.


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Video Montage: The Flow
Following the flow of the universe, with a photo montage I created. The song is "Twisted Hair" by Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble, featuring the sublime operatic voice of Sioux singer Bonnie Jo Hunt, who sings over the sound of crickets.
Also posted on youtube:

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