Can anyone write a poem?
Yes, I think so. I don't know if anyone will write a poem. You have to want to. You have to have sharp ears. And you have to not be afraid of being human.
How do you begin?
You have to get to a very quiet place inside yourself. And that doesn't mean that you can't have noise outside. I know some people who put jazz on, loudly, to write. I think each writer has her or his secret path to the muse. I'm told one writer stands for six hours with a typewriter on a podium—he stands and types. And I know a woman who has her computer in a closet and she goes in, closes the door, and, with her back to the door and her face to the wall, she writes.
How do you write?
I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don't allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday. About once a month, the management slips a note under my door and they ask, 'Please, Dr. Angelou, may we change the sheets? We know they must be moldy.' But I've never slept there. I just go in and sit down and work.
Does your humanitarian work influence your writing?
You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot—it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive. I don't use vulgarity, and I won't have it around me, and no pejoratives, because those words are meant to dehumanize people. If it's poison in a vial and has a skull and bones on it, and you pour the content into Bavarian crystal, it's still poison.
Do you think poets are called to fill a spiritual role?
I would say that. But you see, there's a philosophical statement that says some people are born great. Others achieve it. And some have it thrust upon them. That may be so with poetry, and it may be that you have all three.
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