Editor's note: We were deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Maya Angelou's passing. The following is from the April 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

We survive in exact relationship to the dedication of our poets," wrote Maya Angelou in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Here, the author and teacher shares her thoughts on how to write—and how to live.
"Good morning," she says, her voice like black coffee with a splash of bourbon. Even over the phone, you can hear her smile.

"Now, tell me what am I doing?"

"We'd like to ask you how to write a poem."

"Like a pianist runs her fingers over the keys, I'll search my mind for what to say. Now, the poem may want you to write it. And then sometimes you see a situation and think, "I'd like to write about that." Those are two different ways of being approached by a poem, or approaching a poem.

"Years ago I saw some children jumping hopscotch in Harlem. And then later, I was in Stockholm taking a course in cinematography, and I saw some Swedish children skipping hopscotch—I think it's called "hoppa hage" there. And I thought, "Hmmm, those kids at home, they have a little more rhythm and they think different thoughts." So I went back to watch the children in Harlem to get their rhythm, and then I began to write this poem:

Harlem Hopscotch

One foot down, then hop! It's hot.
   Good things for the ones that's got.
Another jump, now to the left.
   Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
   Since you black, don't stick around.
Food is gone, the rent is due,
   Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the people out of work,
   Hold for three, then twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
   That's what hopping's all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost. I think I won.

Next: Maya Angelou answers questions about her process


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