Poetry 30: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou


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
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
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

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 of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

3 thoughts on “Poetry 30: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

  1. I think there’s a touch of braggadocio about this poem by Maya Angelou. As I read it I can hear her declaiming it, in that braggadocio style of hers. This isn’t to suggest that I don’t enjoy it.

    It reminds me a bit of the British comedian Dick Emery. In one of his comic personations he appeared in drag as a busty blonde with thick makeup and a rather lewd expression. At each appearance he would approach a man, grab him lasciviously and screech “Ooh, you are awful! But I like you!”, with which she would land a punch on him and leer at the audience. You could always see this coming, although the scene varied slightly at each enactment. Although it was pure slapstick and utterly predictable, the effect was (for me and many others) hilariously funny, and quite unforgettable.

    Dick Emery died in 1983, his remains lie in Mortlake Cemetery.

    I think Maya Angelou and Dick Emery share something of a genre.

    1. Hi Peter
      I interpreted it slightly differently. To me, there’s humour there but it doesn’t come across as comical. It just smacks of someone who is comfortable in their own skin, like a cat. I put it up as I thought it conveyed what Norma was trying to express about her in her response to a quote from her on the Facebook site:

      But it also moved me and I can’t quite put my finger on why

      1. I am really struggling to have Maya Angelou, who I greatly admire for her wit, wisdom and brazen womanpower associated with the slapstick, sexist and rather obvious humour of Dick Emery. For me, as a feminist, this is tantamount to blasphemy, but I appreciate, and, of course, allow, that others make associations and connections that do not sit well with me.
        Having said that, this poem to me speaks against the tyranny of oppressive ideas portrayed in the media of what is or isn’t desirable in a woman. Maya is musing, in her magnificently unabashful style, on how, in spite of not conforming to the stereotypical ideal, she has not been short of admirers. Interestingly, she also notes how these admirers themselves may have been bemused by their attraction to her. This reflects what I have found to be true too, that it is more often some intangible, indefinable quality that is the basis of an attraction rather than just someone’s appearance.
        And thank goodness, otherwise most of us would lead very lonesome lives, given that few of us manage to look much like the models paraded in the media as the embodiment of all that is attractive. I believe that one of them (Claudia Schiffer, I think) pointed out that even she did not look like that, referring to the way her image in the media has been subjected to cosmetic and technological enhancement with airbrushing etc.
        Maya exudes confidence in knowing that she has something to offer and that others are drawn to her, whether she or they understand why. As “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies” she just gets on with being her authentic self and I have to wonder whether, ultimately, this led her to lead a more satisfying, fulfilling life than many of those “pretty women” who bought into the idea that their looks were their only means of allure.
        In her book “The Beauty Myth” Naomi Woolf revealed how the billion dollar industries that have evolved to “help” women attempt to achieve some look hyped in the media has led to a whole new form of enslavement. Just as women became more financially independent they felt compelled to spend substantial chunks of their money on these various approaches to remodelling themselves into some idealised version.
        I hope Maya Angelou’s wisdom and the message of this poem live on…
        “‘Cause I’m a woman
        Phenomenal woman,
        That’s me.” :-)

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