Maya Angelou: On how to write a poem and Harlem Hopscotch

Maya AngelouLike 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.

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