The Sealey Challenge: I Shall Not Be Moved

I Shall Not Be Moved

I turned back to Maya Angelou to mark this anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, and I Shall Not Be Moved was a perfect compliment to the day, as fresh and raw and vibrant and powerful today as it must have been when it was first published in 1990.

Sometimes I am startled that something so very fresh could have been written before, and I guess it’s another reminder that nothing ever changes, not the good, not the ill, because I Shall Not Be Moved could have been written yesterday, right down to the minimum wage on which no one can live and the silenced, ignored worker who keeps the world moving and the presence of structural racism and white supremacy.

It is a very different set of poetry than that contained in On the Pulse of Morning, but it is very much the same: poetry that tackles darkness and horror and white supremacist legacies and presents, but celebrates joy and life as well. Angelou’s hand and her eye are sharp and shrewd, moving from places as diverse as Mississippi and Missouri and Ohio to London (and the river of hate dividing it from the Gaels—what a line!), and from the past to the present—sometimes in the same poem, as in the powerful “Our Grandmothers.”

I Shall Not Be Moved speaks to the issues we face today, and to the horrors of our history, but, like On the Pulse of Morning, it also speaks to a better future, a world of fairness and justice, a world where workers make enough to live and Mr. Bigot and Ms. Begot are on their way out and the country and the world are both better places. And maybe that’s the most radical part of I Shall Not Be Moved: Angelou dares to celebrate, and to write a better world into our hearts.

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