As well as being National Poetry Month, April is the birth month of the writer and poet Maya Angelou. Best known for the first of her many autobiographies, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, her poetry was equally celebrated, and in 1993, she became the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration since Robert Frost.
In 2001, however, Hallmark presented a decently designed line of greeting cards that featured Angelou’s words. Nicely done as they were, the idea of selling one’s poems, especially the poems of such a distinguished writer as Maya Angelou, really rubbed me the wrong way. It smacked of the kind of cheap self-exploitation that I would never have expected of her.
Maya Angelou documented in detail the many jobs she’d done to support herself during her life: dancer, fry cook, sex worker, actress, and activist. In the last few years of her life, in constant physical pain according to her son, she completed several additions to her ongoing memoir, including one about her relationship with her mother.
Why can’t I completely shake the idea that Hallmark cards were beneath her then? They were beautiful, a cut above the sentimental drivel that one expects from a greeting card, and are clearly still held in high regard by many. They sell on Ebay for a bit more than they retailed for fifteen years ago. No other poets to my knowledge have followed suit, and why would that be, since Hallmark has proven such a product can be done tastefully, and presumably sell well?
Maybe it’s just that so few of us send cards, or any kind of personal mail, anymore. I have to get my niece’s card in the mail tomorrow, for her Saturday birthday. Chances are whatever I find won’t be the equal of a Maya Angelou card. But, would I purchase one if it was in front of me? I still don’t know.