Somehow, it doesn’t feel right to simply post my work without paying respect to those who inspired me from the very beggining. You may read this list and think, “Typical” but their works mark the milestones and changes in my life. These are the words that stirred my imagination…

Langston Hughes was a huge influence. I used his poem in high school to open a short story I wrote about a mother after she found out her teenage son had died. It made me think about all the things that mothers go through to protect their children, especially single mothers.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

This was another poem that spoke to me during my teenaged years. It reminded me of the contributions my ancestors made to this country, yet how few of our stories are told in the history books and how we’ve lost the art or passing the stories down from generation to generation.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

Shel Silverstein was not the first poet I ever heard of, but the one I really looked forward to reading because his work is just plain fun! I had the opportunity to share this poem with my daughter recently. I recited the first stanza for her and she couldn’t stop laughing! She laughed even more when she read it for herself!

The Dirtiest Man In The World

Oh, I’m Dirty Dan, the world’s dirtiest man,
I never have taken a shower.
I can’t see my shirt–it’s so covered with dirt,
And my ears have enough to grow flowers.

But the water is either a little too hot,
Or else it’s a little too cold.
I’m musty and dusty and patchy and scratchy
And mangy and covered with mold.
But the water is always a little too hot,
Or else it’s a little too cold.

I live in a pen with five hogs and a hen
And three squizzly lizards who creep in
My bed, and they itch as I squirm, and I twitch
In the cruddy old sheets that I sleep in.

In you looked down my throat with a flashlight, you’d note
That my insides are coated with rust.
I creak when I walk and I squeak when I talk,
And each time I sneeze I blow dust.

The thought of a towel and soap makes me howl,
And when people have something to tell me
They don’t come and tell it–they stand back and yell it.
I think they’re afraid they might smell me.

The bedbugs that leap on me sing me to sleep,
And the garbage flies buzz me awake.
They’re the best friends I’ve found and I fear they might drown
So I never go too near a lake.

Each evening at nine I sit down to dine
With the termites who live in my chair,
And I joke with the bats and have intimate chats
With the cooties who crawl in my hair.

I’d brighten my life if I just found a wife,
But I fear that will never be
Until I can find a girl, gentle and kind,
With a beautiful face and a sensitive mind,
Who sparkles and twinkles and glistens and shines–
And who’s almost as dirty as me.

One word comes to mind with this poem: unique. It has a pace that is as mellow and easy going as the journey Robert Frost describes. The first time I heard this poem, all I could say is: WOW!

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Now, I have yet to hear anyone say a bad word about my most favorite poet. Even more that reading her work, I love to hear Maya Angelou speak! She really takes her time and selects her words very carefully. She doesn’t want you to miss a thing! And, although she could, she doesn’t beat you over the head with all the million dollar words she knows. There is so much power in the words of the next piece. This poem describes my resilience and the resilience of black people.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

I absolutely LOVE the way this next poet/song writer’s thoughts come together. When I read her poetry or listen to her songs, I always find myself thinking: why didn’t I think of that! Jill Scott (from her book “The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours”…)

Old School Lovin

While you were out
I realized how much…
I mean
How good us is
So I want to share
Something my momma taught
A skill for loving – the wild wicked kind
I think you are deserving
So I practiced and I know it’s right
You used to say
My mom was a freak
And yes you were right
So get comfortable
Close both eyes
Open your mouth
And taste
My scratch sweet potato pie

2 thoughts on “Influences

  1. I love the poems that inspired you. I would like for you to read my book “Red Clay and Roses” some day. Not because I want to sell you a book, but because I want you to know the story. Let me know if you are interested and I will gift you a copy.

  2. Absolutely love every single one of these poems—you and I have very similar tastes. I grew up on Shel Silverstein and memorized both The Road Not Taken and Mother to Son years ago. Some poets are indelible on our minds, and these are but a few.

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