The Sealey Challenge: Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer

Maya Angelou's CELEBRATIONS, and a sunflower.
Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer

I couldn’t focus on anything heavy today, no matter how excellent—and so, rather than read T.S. Eliot (I wanted to: it’s about CATS!!!! but he was kind of a fascist, so not today, Satan), I spent the day with Maya Angelou’s Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer.

Celebrations is a book of works connected only by loosest association: they were, generally, written specially for something. It includes On the Pulse of Morning, which I read earlier this Sealey Challenge, and which still makes me cry; it’s followed up by A Brave and Startling Truth, which apparently also makes me cry. There are poems written for people—Oprah Winfrey and a kid on his bar mitzvah among them. There are vigils and elegies and celebrations.

A couple of the poems in Celebrations don’t quite work for me as intended. “Sons and Daughters,” which was written for the Children’s Defense Fund, is a great example of an emotional appeal—which means that it might be great for you, but emotional appeals don’t work on me, so it isn’t quite the thing. (There are some absolutely genius lines in it, even I can see that, but I really hate emotional appeals.) “Amazing Peace,” meanwhile, was written for a 2005 National Christmas Tree lightning and struck me as an interesting example of the secularization of Christmas in American culture, as well as the inherent mess of a country that’s supposed to have separation of Church and State also having a Christmas tree.

This Sealey Challenge, I’ve read four of Angelou’s works: On the Pulse of Morning (also included here), To Disembark, I Shall Not Be Moved, and Celebrations. The first three are magisterial works: reminders of the power of hope in the darkness, raw and vibrant and pulsing with life. Celebrations is a very different book. It’s a security blanket, or a COVID-free, non-creepy hug. All its poems reinforce the idea that we are all interconnected, and Angelou tackles everything from structural racism to the fears and triumphs and tribulations of growing up and beyond—she continues, here, to chronicle life, with a loving hand.

Celebrations is not the book that To Disembark is; nor is it I Shall Not Be Moved. But it is tender, and loving, and every inch its title: a book of celebrations and of prayer, a tale of hope for the generations to come.

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