As I’m sure you’ll be aware, the extraordinary, inspirational woman, Maya Angelou, died yesterday.
She had an astonishingly rich life, starting right at the bottom of the pile and ending her life as a teacher, a role model, a treasure and an inspiration to millions.
I came to know of her first through her poetry. The first poem I read of hers was Still I Rise, which is one of my favourite poems to this day. I re-read it often and it still makes me cry and it still makes me feel stronger. You can find it on YouTube being read by Maya herself.
Yet when Wikipedia, and some obituaries out today, mention Maya Angelou’s poetry they say it ‘received mixed reviews’.
I’ve seen this phrase before and I don’t like it. It often seems to be used as a euphemism for ‘Wasn’t particularly special.’ But I think poetry should receive mixed reviews. I think poetry, and all forms of writing should aim to speak powerfully, but not to every reader and not to every reviewer. Books that are unanimously feted and glorified make me suspicious, and might in fact disappoint readers if, as is sometimes the case, it turns out to be a matter of The Emperors New Clothes. Only by reading widely do you find the words that reach into you.
Nor should writers worry about the prospect of ‘mixed reviews’. Trying to please everybody can only make your writing weaker, because it can no longer come from the heart.
Maya Angelou herself said “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The photos in this post are taken from Maya Angelou’s biography on achievement.org