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Maya Angelou rises to the challenge of writing for Hallmark.
January 12, 2002 12:46 AM   Subscribe

Maya Angelou rises to the challenge of writing for Hallmark. Angelou finds it "challenging and daring" to craft two-sentence sentiments. And when the Maya Angelou Life Mosaic Collection hits stores this month, you'll be able to read the hard-won sentiments of America's favorite inaugural poet on pillows, wall hangings and banquet bowls.
posted by varmint (71 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Blah. To me all artists are commercial entities to a certain extent and accusations of selling-out are usually ignored. What does matter is will most of Maya's fans and readers see this as an affront to her art or as neat-o Maya capsules for the meaningful decorator on the go. I'm assuming the latter.
posted by skallas at 1:02 AM on January 12, 2002


[The Glorious Banquet Bowl, costing $24.99, says]

"Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet."


It's Maya Angelou who should be grateful that Hallmark accepted this rubbish.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:18 AM on January 12, 2002


Roses are red
Violets are twisted
Bend over dear
Your about to get a glorious banquet bowl.
posted by Frasermoo at 1:25 AM on January 12, 2002


oops - 'you're'
posted by Frasermoo at 1:26 AM on January 12, 2002


"Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet."

This is precisely the problem with "modern poetry". If any turn of phrase (trite or otherwise) or simple wordplay is to qualify as poetry then the term is meaningless (and the terrorist have won).
posted by RavinDave at 1:42 AM on January 12, 2002


I think my head just burst into flames! Maya is a very, VERY talented writer! What a waste. And yes, I see it as an affront on her art. Capitalism wins again, I guess.
posted by misscolleen at 1:48 AM on January 12, 2002


Dear Hallmark ...

"Life is a donkey basketball game played on parakeets of hope!"

Please send the royalty check to ...
posted by RavinDave at 1:50 AM on January 12, 2002


Quick: someone name a poem you love.
posted by pracowity at 2:24 AM on January 12, 2002


From poignant abuse victim to banal homily slinger. Sheesh. What's next? Don DeLillo writing lyrics for 'N'Sync?
posted by ed at 2:26 AM on January 12, 2002


That second link crapped out and now points to the main Hallmark page, but just find the Life Mosaic link if you feel the burning need to purchase a framed print that says "Success is knowing and being known as a human being."

Quick: someone name a poem you love.

For Grace, After A Party by Frank O'Hara
posted by varmint at 3:43 AM on January 12, 2002


Quick: someone name a poem you love.

Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe.
posted by bjgeiger at 3:48 AM on January 12, 2002


Wallace Stevens's The Snow Man
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:51 AM on January 12, 2002


Anything NOT by Maya Angelou. She was a banal hack long before this abomination.
posted by Optamystic at 4:08 AM on January 12, 2002


Quick: someone name a poem you love.

I dunno, I quite like RavinDave's "Life is a donkey basketball game played on parakeets of hope!"
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:19 AM on January 12, 2002


> Quick: someone name a poem you love.

Just checking.

It seems that many -- most? -- people hate poetry, never read it, don't understand it, can't figure out why people would read it instead of paging through the latest adventure novel. They therefore know nothing about poetry and probably shouldn't be here knocking one (not very good) poet when they really mean to say they don't like poetry at all.
posted by pracowity at 4:26 AM on January 12, 2002


"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot

Do you really think naming one favorite poem is enough to pass your worthy-to-criticize-poetry test, pracowity? Make us explicate it too.
posted by rcade at 4:34 AM on January 12, 2002


"There Once Was A Man From Nantucket" (Anonymous). Deeply moving -- changed my life.
posted by webmutant at 4:55 AM on January 12, 2002


"Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

As for Maya Angelou's "selling out" to Hallmark, even poets have bills to pay.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:05 AM on January 12, 2002


> Do you really think naming one...

No, of course not. It's not science nor was meant to be. But failing such a test would probably make you, as you put it, "unworthy" to criticize poetry. "Unable" would be a better word.

But if you're in the mood, then explicate. I like Prufrock, too.
posted by pracowity at 5:06 AM on January 12, 2002


Of Being Numerous - George Oppen
Paul Valery - Crusoe

Selling out to hallmark is really a non-issue.
While her delivery is pretty good, I've never been particularly impressed by Maya's poetry.
posted by juv3nal at 5:51 AM on January 12, 2002


"Maya is an inglorious pretender, a limitless and delicious hack" who fooled most of the people most of the time, for far too long. Thank god everyone now realizes the empress has no clothes.
posted by darren at 5:53 AM on January 12, 2002


Ode to Autumn, John Keats.

Carol Anne: Yes, even poets have bills to pay. Shakespeare, Pope, and Tennyson paid them by writing the some of greatest poetry in the English language. Robert Graves paid them by writing novels. Allen Ginsberg paid them by, oh, hell, I don't know, but he paid them somehow.

I don't think we should object to Hallmark cards, or knick-knacks, but we have every right to object to trite sentiments and boring verse. Even the novels Graves wrote to pay the bills so he could write poetry, were good novels.

Maya Angelou had the opportunity to elevate Hallmark sentiments to the level of poetry. Instead, it looks like she has let herself be dragged down to the level of Hallmark.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:05 AM on January 12, 2002


"since feeling is first" by e.e. cummings
"I Knew A Woman" Theodore Roethke

Don't forget the power of Oprah, she has elevated Maya beyond merely bestseller and into the mythdom of soothsayer.

I'm not too upset, though, because Oprah has raised awareness of authors I respect as well, like Ellen Gilchrist.
posted by kickerofelves at 6:07 AM on January 12, 2002


> "Maya is an inglorious pretender...

What are you quoting?

> Instead, it looks like she has let herself be dragged
> down to the level of Hallmark.

I doubt it could have been different. Hallmark doesn't publish poetry, it publishes expressions of common sentiments for people who cannot express themselves. To get the check, she had to do the hack.
posted by pracowity at 6:12 AM on January 12, 2002


The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson. Gorgeous. It's even more beautiful once you know a little of the backstory.
posted by gd779 at 6:22 AM on January 12, 2002


For Grace, After A Party by Frank O'Hara

varmint, thanks for that link.
One of my favorites, found there: To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing by William Butler Yeats
posted by HTuttle at 6:42 AM on January 12, 2002


Riprap by Gary Snyder
posted by ferris at 6:57 AM on January 12, 2002


pracowity: I don't believe that. Good poetry sells. Shakespeare was popular in his own day, so were Pope, Byron, Tennyson, and many others. Even Robert Frost and Allen Ginsberg in our own time. No, not all poets were popular, but it is possible to write good poetry that is widely appreciated. Hallmark verse doesn't have to be bad.

Hallmark does have divisions that publish edgy stuff. If they can find a place for scatological Christmas cards (and they do), I'll bet they could find a place even for a Ginsberg. There's no excuse for Angelou to write crap, if she is capable of better.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:11 AM on January 12, 2002


O City, O City by Delmore Schwartz
posted by matteo at 7:36 AM on January 12, 2002


About ms Angelou: I'm sure that after the Janet Jackson movie and the Hallmark cards, she'll soon have her own PS2 videogame
posted by matteo at 7:38 AM on January 12, 2002


A better test: off the top of your head, name five living, working poets. Doesn't come easy to me, and I have a Ph.D. in English. Could poetry be an obsolete form? Sure, most of us like some poems we came across as impressionable youths, but do we still read it, keep up with it, buy it? I know I don't, not even the New Yorker ones that stare me in the eye.

As far as Maya Angelou goes, I guess she is the rare exception to the Robert Graves quote: "There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either."
posted by muckster at 8:02 AM on January 12, 2002


I know why the caged bird regrets missing your bar mitzvah.
posted by machaus at 8:02 AM on January 12, 2002


angelou is a terrible poet, perfect for hallmark. what a sell-out. 'Robert Graves paid them by writing novels' and good novels they are...praco, love ya babe, but your argument is...im suprised you said it frankly.
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 AM on January 12, 2002


This reminds me of those SNL commercial parodies with David Alan Grier doing an impression of Maya Angelou writing commercials for Butterfinger and Penzoil. I wish I could find a transcript.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:10 AM on January 12, 2002


I would only reiterate Slithy_Tove's last two paragraphs if I made this post very long, so instead I'll just add this:

Little chestnuts of wisdom (like the ones Angelou is squeezing out of god knows where) are not necessarily poetry simply because they fall out of a poet--which seems to be the assumption on Hallmark's part--but they can be. Most famous example:

"I am his highness' dog at Kew / Pray tell me sir, whose dog are you?" Which Pope had engraved on a dog collar. You can get away with being a shill if you're good at it, is the moral. Angelou take note.
posted by Hildago at 8:17 AM on January 12, 2002


Ode by Basil Bunting
posted by y2karl at 8:40 AM on January 12, 2002


Mag by Carl Sandburg

"I wish to God I never saw you, Mug." (a variation)
posted by jacknose at 9:03 AM on January 12, 2002


But she thought, "If I'm America's poet, or one of them, then I want to be in people's hands. All people's hands, people who would never buy a book."

Spoken like a real American poet.
posted by jacknose at 9:04 AM on January 12, 2002


A better test: off the top of your head, name five living, working poets

Off the top of my head, only English language, no cheating, no checking: Les Murray, John Ashbery, J.H.Prynne, Seamus Heaney,, C.H.Sisson(if still alive!) Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon(possibly great) Derek Walcott, Frank Kuppner, Simon Armitage, Fleur Adcock, Michael Hoffman, Frank Bidart(certainly very good).

There are a lot more. What worries me is that they're almost all over 40 or well over 60.

We - the few who follow poets' work - no longer pay attention to young poets, We've stopped caring about who's the "next big thing". We don't argue about who'll be minor and who'll be major. We just read.

That, I think, is retrograde.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:15 AM on January 12, 2002


Favorite poets? Octavio Paz, Rainer Maria Rilke, Odysseus Elytis, Seamus Heaney.

Maya Angelou? Hell, I figured she was praticing for the Hallmark contact for most of her career. She's never risen above the level of the first year Iowa Writers Workshop student - who's biggest initial mistake is to confuse sentimentality with depth.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:15 AM on January 12, 2002


My favorite quote from Maya...
"The white American man makes the white American woman maybe not superfluous but just a little kind of decoration. Not really important to turning around the wheels of the state. Well the black American woman has never been able to feel that way. No black American man at any time in our history in the United States has been able to feel that he didn't need that black woman right against him, shoulder to shoulder -- in that cotton field, on the auction block, in the ghetto, wherever. "

ah...aha...ahaha......AHAHA!
I love this stuff. she's probably one of the best comedy writers out there, and still manages to be a pretty good racist to boot.
posted by bradth27 at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2002


One that I read a while back and have been seeking in vain online lately: "Peace, so that" by by Ron Kuzma. Can anybody help me here?
posted by alumshubby at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2002


I've always loved Robert Service. His "Cremation of Sam McGee" is, in my opinion, brilliant. Check out the rest of his work, though. It's all wonderful.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:44 AM on January 12, 2002


...she'll soon have her own PS2 videogame

Maya Angelou's Pro Poet?

The more I think about this, the better the idea sounds.
posted by malphigian at 9:54 AM on January 12, 2002


" ... We - the few who follow poets' work - no longer pay attention to young poets, We've stopped caring about who's the "next big thing". We don't argue about who'll be minor and who'll be major. We just read ..."

Miguel ... I'd agree with every part of this ... except I'd replace the "no longer" with "never did ...", the "stopped caring" with "never cared". I suspect those who acquired the taste for verse (and it is an acquired taste) - not only now, but through the ages - related directly to the work. The modern trend in which celebrities are known more for their celebrity itself than the actual creative work they've accomplished is wonderful for rock stars, or actors and actresses ... but in the realm of good poetry, if the verse does not make the poet almost secondary, it's not good verse.

The fact that far more Americans know Maya Angelou's name than even a single line of her writing speaks volumes (and is very likely why Hallmark would want her). Who cares what she writes? The Name is what sells the trinkets. She is to great poets as N'Sync is to Mozart ... a shallow, pathetic shadow that envisions herself to have substance.

The fact that "The wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy, the wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim." actually strikes her as an accomplishment worthy of toasting herself - good god, why would anyone think this woman is a poet? (Which is not to say that being brief is not possible ... but put that idiocy next to Blake's

"The lust of the goat is the bounty of God,
the wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God ...
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps."

or Elytis'

"What I want is something
difficult and translucent,
like birdsong, in a time of war"

or Yeats'

"The best lack all conviction,
while the worst are filled with passionate intensity".


etc., etc.

Well, enough. Let me, however, in (apparently) the time-honored tradtion of Hallmark "poets", reduce this whole post to two lines:

Maya Angelou sucks.
Others don't.

(Damn ... I feel I really need to go toast myself with a glass of wine ...).
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2002


We Wear the Mask, Dunbar and In a Dark Time, Roethke.

I don't think we should object to Hallmark cards, or knick-knacks, but we have every right to object to trite sentiments and boring verse.

Ding that!

The sad fact is that they don't need Maya to come up with trite verse. Maya will just help sell it better. And for that, she should be a bit embarrassed. She's selling her name, not her art.

(Enjoying reading others favorite poetry, by the way.)
posted by amanda at 10:26 AM on January 12, 2002


Don Marquis "mehitabel s extensive past" (with illustrations by Krazy Kat author/cartoonist George Herriman)
posted by readymade at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2002


The only poetry I like is Edgar Allen Poe. I can't stand most poetry. It's like modern art. Who says this stuff is a masterpiece? It's stuff anyone could do.

Maya is like Al Sharpton. A sham, a hoax, and a glory hound who plays the race card every chance she gets. She makes me itch.

I won't buy any of her sniviling "pearls of wisdom" on a Hallmark card or anywhere else.
posted by aacheson at 10:34 AM on January 12, 2002


CHOKE ON THIS FIONA APPLE! STICK THIS IN YOUR "ANTI-ESTABLISHMENTARIAN WHILE KISSING MAYA ANGELOU'S BUTT" PIPE AND SMOKE IT!!
posted by tcobretti at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2002


It's stuff anyone could do.

But can they do it well? The whole "What is art?" discussion is pretty tedious but I have to think you don't really mean this. All art is superfluous?
posted by amanda at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2002


Good poetry is rare — someone once compared it to digging through an immense river bed of mud and rocks to find an occasional small nugget of gold — but as far as famous poets go, I think Robert Frost got it right more often than most.

Lately, my sister has been after me to read poems by the current U.S. poet laureate — yes, the country has one — Billy Collins. We like his poems Flames and Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2002


I go back to May 1937 by Sharon Olds

That movie Angelou directed, with the silver candelabra that had a name, was just the definition of awful.
posted by bingo at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2002


...she'll soon have her own PS2 videogame

Maya Angelou's Pro Poet?

The more I think about this, the better the idea sounds.


malphigian, I think that this idea has legs: let's pitch it to some agent, I'm sure ms. Angelou will dig that endorsement money, she'll also appear in the ads -- think about the merchandising possiblities. I envision the game as Silent Hill meets Tony Hawk Pro Skater, only with poetry. Some of the enemies she has got to slay: the Nobel Committee, Toni Morrison, Bill Clinton. Her allies: Janet Jackson, the Hallmark Monster (like a huge similing card with tentacles)
posted by matteo at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2002


No, I'm saying that sometimes people say "this is a masterpiece!" when it doesn't appear all that fantasic and groundbreaking to me.

Some new art forms (blank canvas, big colored boxes on canvas,) how is this a masterpiece? t

As for poetry, I know there are great poets who did groundbreaking, original, disturbing, beautiful (choose your adjective) poetry, but Maya simply isn't one of them. Her stuff is boring, race laden, heavy handed, and definitely not groundbreaking.

I get the impression the only reason why she's famous is because she's black, and thus, was highlighted by Oprah.

BTW, I love art. Art is definitely not superfluous. But boring, repetitive art that is declared amazing when it's simply not, is superfluous.
posted by aacheson at 10:44 AM on January 12, 2002


Quick: someone name a poem you love.

The Fable of the Ducks And The Hens


And if Maya wants to sell out, more power to her. Welcome to the American Dream. The dream has always been about capitalistic success, and not artistic integrity.

Although, this does remind me of a series of SNL skits a few years back. I believe it was one of the Wayans brothers doing a guest appearance and he did Maya riffs with commercials for Butterfinger and maybe car oil and adult diapers or something. Anyway, it was pretty funny then, it's really funny now. :)
posted by dejah420 at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2002


I've never liked Angelou, her poetry has always seemed sloppy and sentimental and lazy to me; Hallmark actually seems like an appropriate place for her work. For a terrific poet of the NY School, second generation, check out Ted Berrigan. The EPC at Buffalo is a great source and has a good Berrigan page; "Red Shift" is a good poem and one of his more accessible works. If it sounds in places like Frank O'Hara, it should: Berrigan was one of the many O'Hara imitators who sprung up in American poetry after FO'H's death in 1966. But IMHO he escapes the "I do this I do that" laundry list trap so many of them fell into..
posted by ClydeCrashcup at 11:28 AM on January 12, 2002


A better test: off the top of your head, name five living, working poets.

anne carson, louise gluck, leslie scalapino, lyn hejinian, rosemarie waldrop, charles simic, lucie brock-broido, michael palmer, ishmael reed...

google & enjoy!
posted by judith at 11:32 AM on January 12, 2002


There are young interesting poets! I'm reading Cate Marvin's World's Tallest Disaster, Ross Martin's The Cop Who Rides Alone, and (what the heck) my sister Rebecca Wolff's Manderley.

My sister is also the editor of a poetry journal called Fence, which saves me weeding through the less interesting young poets since I can just take her recommendations!

(By the way, if you're assuming that the poet laureate must be a stodgy old classicist or a horrifying trendy language poet, read a few of Billy Collin's pieces — they're hilarious!)
posted by nicwolff at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2002


I am impressed that so many folks here are reading poetry. I have never read any of Ms. Angelou's work, have heard readings of it, did not care for it. Have checked out the links offered in this discussion and find them all enjoyable. Thanks for the good, in the long run, FPP, varmint.
posted by bjgeiger at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2002


alumshubby (no e-mail address in profile): Might you be thinking of the poet Greg Kuzma? If so, hie thee to a second-hand bookstore!
posted by Carol Anne at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2002


Kuzma's known outside of Nebraska? Go team (I guess).
posted by RavinDave at 2:25 PM on January 12, 2002


muckster: A better test: off the top of your head, name five living, working poets.

C'mon. I only have a bachelors and at least 5 people that taught at my school (Ishmael Reed, Lyn Hejinian, Thom Gunn, Robert Hass, Alfred Arteaga) are alive and still writing poetry? What kind of school did you go to?
posted by juv3nal at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2002


tony hoagland.
posted by pikachulolita at 5:31 PM on January 12, 2002


juv3nal, no worries about my education. I studied with a few poets, too, and I'm familiar with the work of most of the people mentioned in this thread. My point was that contemporary poetry is awfully marginalized (staunch mefi contributors notwithstanding) -- to the point where it's almost irrelevant, and I was asking if it might be a form on its way out. I mean, generally people care more about Tony Soprano than Charles Simic, no?

and i'm really glad nobody mentioned jewel yet -- the best paid poet ever.
posted by muckster at 7:20 PM on January 12, 2002


Buntings's 'translation' Villon is my favorite of favorites--I'd provide the link I found but typos and wrong punctuation prevent--here's the section Remember, imbeciles and wits:

Remember, imbeciles and wits,
sots and ascetics, fair and foul,
young girls with little tender tits,
that DEATH is written overall.
Worn hides that scarcely clothe the soul
they are so rotten, old and thin,
or firm and soft and warm and full-
fellmonger Death gets every skin.

All that is piteous, all that is fair
all that is fat and scant of breath,
Elisha's baldness, Helen's hair, is
Death's collateral:

Three score and ten years after sight of this
pay me your pulse and breath
value received. And who dare cite,
as we forgive our debtors, Death?

Abelard and Eloise,
Henry the Fowler
Charlemagne, Genoa,
Lopokova, all these
die, die in pain.

And General Grant and General Lee,
Patti and Florence Nightingale
like Tyro and Antiope
drift among ghosts in Hell,

know nothing, are nothing, save a fume
driving across a mind
preoccupied with this: our doom
is, to be sifted by the wind,

heaped up, smoothed down like silly sands
We are less permanent than thought.
The Emperor with the Golden Hands
is still a word, a tint, a tone,
insubstantial-glorious,
when we ourselves are dead and gone
and the green grass growing over us.

posted by y2karl at 8:29 PM on January 12, 2002


Ashbery: Farm Implements & Rutabagas in a Landscape
But Some Trees is the work of the miglio f in him
posted by EngineBeak at 9:39 PM on January 12, 2002


MegoSteve and dejah420, y'all were right on about the SNL skit (here's a transcript of the Froot Loops skit.) Strangely, the Hallmark move made it onto tonight's SNL, as well, with Tracy Morgan doing the honors. Lately Weekend Update is one of two or three enjoyable parts of SNL--mostly because it's a MeFi recap with cute people.

That site has transcripts, casts, and other information going way back, organized by season. (In case you want to see Maya and Marilyn Manson present a VH1 award.)
[Yay, first post! Serious forum fear here. Hi.]
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:58 PM on January 12, 2002


ed-What's next? Don DeLillo writing lyrics for 'N'Sync?

THAT I'd pay good money to hear.
posted by jonmc at 10:03 PM on January 12, 2002


Maya Angelou rises...

I would like to state at this time that this is at least the second or third worst pun I've heard today.
posted by majick at 10:22 PM on January 12, 2002


I very much treasure the poetry of Wilfred Owen. He was an Englishman who fought in the trenches in France in WWI and was killed just 7 days before the armistice in 1919. He wrote about the war and what it was like to be in it; it was how he vented his fear and his anger. There's no glorification of war here; he hated it:

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons

No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them at all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


Most of his work was published posthumously, and I learned of it when I first discovered Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem", which was written to be first performed at the reopening of Coventry Cathedral after it was rebuilt from the damage it sustained during the Blitz.

Britten's War Requiem is a masterpiece. It doesn't get performed much, though, because it requires an organ, a string ensemble, a full orchestra, a boy's choir, a full choir and two soloists.

The soloists are a bass and a tenor, and they sing Owen's poetry. The two choirs sing the Latin from the Mass.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:38 PM on January 12, 2002


muckster: A better test: off the top of your head, name five living, working poets.

Five more: AE Stallings, John Frederick Nims, Brad Leithauser, Mark Jarman, Andrew Hudgins.

[Miguel: Les Murray is a talentless hack. Wanna rumble? :-) ]
posted by sennoma at 12:31 AM on January 15, 2002


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