Avid Hillary Clinton supporter Maya Angelou says she has been inspired to write a poem in honor of president-elect Barack Obama, who will be the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office when he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
But Angelou doesn’t expect to be commissioned to recite her piece on Inauguration Day, as she did for the incoming president 16 years ago.
“I’m sure Mr. Obama, president-elect, will have them bring his own poet,” the 80-year-old writer told the Associated Press Friday from her home in Winston-Salem, where she holds a professorship at Wake Forest University. “I was somebody else’s poet.”
Angelou was famously commissioned by Bill Clinton to compose a poem and read it at his inauguration in 1992. Sixteen years after delivering “On the Pulse of Morning” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Angelou continued to support the Clintons by endorsing Sen. Hillary Clinton’s run against Obama during the primary season.
But when Sen. Clinton withdrew, the writer immediately began “thumping the drum” for Obama and even introduced his wife, Michelle, at an event in Greensboro in September.
The poet and author of such books as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” said she had a visceral, physical reaction when Obama was declared the winner late Tuesday.
“First I laughed,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Before I could finish laughing, I wept. Then I shook. I mean, I trembled. You know, the old meaning of the word ‘thrill’ has a physical aspect. It’s like, `Brrrrr!’ My body started shaking.”
“I thought of my people, African-Americans,” she continued. “I thought of white Americans. I thought of Asians and Spanish people. And I thought, ‘My God! What a country. What a country.’ I believe that in the secret heart of every American there’s a desire to live in a great country. And look at us now.”
“On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she composed for Clinton, talked of war and divisiveness, but also of hope for a new beginning of peace. Angelou said Obama is “a clear and clean wind, a breeze. … There is some poetry in him, yes.”
She has not been approached by Obama about the inauguration, nor does she expect to be. She plans to write a poem about the election of the nation’s true first black president in the coming months, but she cannot yet say what form it will take. She only knows that, like this milestone, it will not come easy.
“I will approach it as the work it is,” she said. “Try to put all my energies and my talents and my prayers and hopes and all that, my nervousness — all of those things will go into it.”