It was less than a week ago when we received news that our beloved and world renowned Maya Angelou transitioned to her final rising. With this, we asked a woman in touch with the poetry community–a mom and author herself–to spend some time with our readers remembering Dr. Angelou. Mahogany L. Browne – affectionately referred to as Momma Mo’ amongst poets – is a Cave Canem fellow, mother of a talented teen daughter, and poetry program director at one of the country’s longest running poetry cafes – The Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe here in New York City. Here’s what she had to say…
On Maya Angelou & A Writer Mother’s Love
“I gave birth to one son, but I have thousand of daughters” – Maya Angelou
For so many years my family told me writing wasn’t going to “cut it.” They said my daughter needed a mother with a consistent job, and I needed to put the poetry on the back burner. But it was always poetry that saved me from the embers of the real world. I would fold my limbs into a nearby chair and fall into Ms Angelou’s verse — it sang of a woman refusing to be victimized. I would point my big woman feet into the ground and think of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings…It became a blueprint for being woman, for surviving, for life after the storm.
Ms. Angelou’s words became a landmark, for the first time I remember taking an easy breath.
Nothing about the writing life is secure. Sometimes the words come. Sometimes the performances arise. Sometimes the poem presents itself to you — both hands wide, ravishing and welcoming. And sometimes, you can only think of your worst days: How your shape is different since you had a baby. How your energy is low. How bright the sun is when your pen isn’t moving. How you owe your child your full attention and this literary life is only a distraction. Reading the poems and essays of Ms. Angelou felt like I was peeling open handwritten letters from a dear aunt, most days. The type of love a writer needs is a consistent one that Ms. Angelou provided me with every page.
After reading those “letters” I’d find myself smiling wide and typing loud — my fingers a samba of words swinging ferociously in the middle of a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn coffee shop. This is when I embraced the hunger to write. I decided I would feed my daughter the happiness of writing and performance and poetry and music. I would give her the pride Angelou wrote about in I Rise, and would teach her pride of a black woman mirroring Phenomenal Woman. I believed if I invested in the world of writing — the world of love would be a natural progression. Teaching a young black woman to love herself is an act of faith and Maya Angelou loved her black womaness so loudly, the walls shook.
I began to take my writing more seriously. I practiced a strict reading and writing schedule. My bones no longer tense, my fear of failure eased into a sweet memory and happiness became a choice. I believe my daughter noticed. Once, I was washing dishes and practicing a line from a poem I was working on and she jumped in and began reciting my poem with me. I cried like all the commercials portray mother’s crying when they are filled with joy.
The funny thing about writing is — there is a poem in everything. There is a story beneath every tea cup, yoga stance, city block and freshly mowed lawn. When you have children, you are given a chance to rewrite the world. Maya Angelou knew this — and delivered us a brand new universe illuminating a brilliantly breathless love, every time.
– Mahogany Browne
Find “Momma Mo” writing a few of her own letters on Twitter at Mo Browne. Browne is the author of several books including Swag & Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out On-line, recommended by Small Press Distribution & listed as About.com Best Poetry Books of 2010. Her journalism work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada’s The Word and UK’s MOBO. Browne’s poetry has been published in literary journals Pluck, Literary Bohemian, Bestiary Brown Girl Love and Up The Staircase. Mahogany is the Poetry Program Director at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe & curates their famous Friday Night Slam.