Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry with Sweet Tea

I read this entire collection of poetry in one sitting. I didn’t want to, I wanted to stop and ponder, but I couldn’t. I was too caught up in her voice and couldn’t bring myself to stop. I will admit that some of the poems went over my head. I’m sure they needed time to sit and be thought upon. Others were revelations that I read twice just to hear the truth or beauty come off the page.

I don’t recommend reading poetry quickly and I fully intended to read this collection again. Right now, I cannot pick a favorite. Maya Angelou writes with humanity, passion, love, anger, pain and hope. Her words speak to me differently at different times. I honestly don’t think I will ever have a favorite, but as a woman, it is nearly impossible not to love Phenomenal Woman. 

Read Maya Angelou. Read her slowly and soak in her words. Devour them like they will soothe your hunger. Read Maya Angelou.

Personally, I think sweet tea is a perfect compliment to poetry. Sweet yet bitter but always refreshing.

They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky with Rooibos Tea

This book, y’all. Three of the “Lost Boys” of the Sudan tell their stories of survival as they left their homes as young boys facing war, genocide, and almost certain death. It is so powerful to hear their perspective as children. Their stories left me broken and yet amazed at the strength of the human spirit.

These children faced circumstances that seem impossible to survive. They face their death repeatedly and somehow never lose the will to live. It reminded me that people can become used to anything. That human trait of accepting circumstances can be lifesaving, but it also has a very dark underbelly. Although the kindness of strangers often saved their lives, inconceivable acts of violence were the cause of their harm. At one point a man emptied his bowels on the bag of one of the boys and then started beating him. This type of cruelty was always explained as being a result of war.  It seems that humanity can become so used to the violence of war that it continues into all aspects of life.

I wonder too, about becoming too accustomed to comfort. Does that cause us to lose our ability to care for each other? The boys survived the refugee camp by caring for each other. Do we show that kind of care? We certainly are not showing that care for refugees or those suffering. This is not some distant piece of history and there are still Sudanese refugees living in refugee camps. What about refugees from Syria or other war-torn areas? How can we do more?

But, I am off topic. They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky is simply a must read and will obviously cause you do some serious thinking about humanity. I recommend reading it with Rooibos tea. The earthy vanilla is a perfect compliment to a book that leaves your tongue dry and your mouth yearning for a drink.

Vintage Hughes with Sweet Tea

I have read a few poems by  Langston Hughes in the past, but it was always a rushed experience. When I checked Vintage Hughes out of the library, I knew I needed to take my time and truly give my attention to the works of Langston Hughes. His poetry and short stories are lyrical, moving, and resonating.

Although I majored in English, poetry has never been my favorite. The more I focus on creativity, the more I enjoy it, but I am still new to enjoying poetry. Langston Hughes, however, writes in a style that is so alive and honest that it is impossible to not love it. Sometimes the poems are heartbreaking, other times inspiring, and most of the time just painfully honest. The three short stories are filled with perfect detail, beautifully deep characters, and plots that remain with you long after you have finished reading.

I recommend reading Hughes out-loud, the poetry is so rhythmic that something is missed if it is read silently. I read to myself in the car, in my back yard as my son played, snuggled in blankets on the couch and each place was filled with the truth of Hughes. It was cathartic to read out loud poetry that addresses racism while sitting in my yard in the South. These issues are still alive and it was good to speak the words and to feel their truth.

Read Hughes. Read Hughes out loud. Feel the rhythm and weight of his words.

I liked reading it with sweet tea because it’s summer in the South. The drink was refreshing and the writing was honest — it was a good combination.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel with Peppermint Tea

Life of Pi has been recommended to me repeatedly over the years. I could never get passed the lack of interest of in a boy and a tiger on a boat. I wasn’t buying the idea that it would make me think about religion or about what it means to be good. I was wrong, Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a truly gripping tale that has left me looking for answers.

The writing style is easy and comfortable, I was immediately sucked into the story. Martel manages to blend story and zoology into a surprisingly interesting narrative. Humor is introduced through organized religion and provides a lightness that is lost later in the story. Once the ship is sunk and life begins on the lifeboat the story takes a more serious turn.

I won’t say more for fear of giving the best part of the novel way, but I will say that the ending rocked my perspective. I have spent days pondering it and I’ve decided that since the story is now mine, I choose to be an optimist and enjoy a happy ending.

I chose to drink peppermint tea because I always find it so refreshing. Martel does such a marvelous job of portraying the misery experienced that my tongue often felt heavy with salt and dryness. Peppermint is deliciously refreshing and a perfect companion to Life of Pi.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with Earl Grey Tea

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favorite authors because of her skill with creating characters. In The Thing Around Your Neck, Adichie manages to create characters that are rich, deep, real, and enticing in a few short pages. It is difficult to understand how she can create characters of such depth in short stories (some of which are only about ten pages). He

Adichie is unafraid of the honesty of being human. She never shies away from the dark and filthy parts of humanity. Her ability to tackle the unpleasantness is one of the reasons that her writing feels so honest. There is nothing fake or unbelievable about the stories. She never wraps up a story so that the characters feel stunted or impossible and that honesty is refreshing.

One of the characters mentions drinking Earl Grey and I found this a perfectly suitable choice for this collection of stories. I sweetened my Earl Grey with sugar and added a bit of milk to make the perfect reading companion. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this collection of stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The Playboy of the Western World and Riders to the Sea by J.M. Synge with Irish Breakfast Tea

I first read these two little plays in an Irish Literature course in college. At the time, I struggled with the language and found them generally uninteresting. Although they are still not my favorite, I was able to better appreciate them this time.

The language, that I originally deemed difficult, is actually what I most appreciate about “The Playboy of the Western World.” The language forces itself into an Irish accent and forms the atmosphere of the play. Playboy is a comedy and really pokes fun at the Catholic Church which is seen in the main character being named Christy. I recommend reading the play with this in mind. I struggled with Christy being celebrated for “killing his da.” This strange premise is what makes this play difficult for me to enjoy.

“Riders to the Sea” is my favorite of the two plays. I prefer the characters of Riders over the characters in Playboy. In Riders, there is so much pain and loss and I appreciate the way this is reflected in the characters. This one act play is backed full of emotion and as a mother, I can’t imagine the pain of Maurya.

Both of these plays by J.M. Synge are an important part of Irish Literature and I recommend taking the time to read them. I want to see them performed as I feel they are probably more captivating when performed and I want to see Synge’s command of language actually spoken.

As these are Irish, it seems fitting to read them while sipping Irish Breakfast Tea. This is one of my favorite teas and is best with a little cream and sugar.

Desert Tracings Translated by Michael A. Sells with Peppermint Tea

Desert Tracings is a collection of six Arabian Odes. I first read this in college and was struck by the beauty of the poetry. This time reading through, I had a little more time to really absorb the poetry. The imagery is simply stunning. The beloved is described with a grace and sadness that is overpowering while scenes of battle are grotesque and horrifying. Beauty, violence, sadness and boast exist simultaneously and pull the emotions of the reader.

The introductions to the works provide helpful insights into the author and structure of the poem. I found it helpful to look up some of the animals referenced to help my mind better understand the intentions of the author. I often find myself pulling this book off the shelf just to read one of the poems and then slipping it back in its spot. There is just a beauty and strength that I love about these Arabian Odes.

I love sipping on peppermint tea while reading these. Personally, I prefer to make it myself by boiling black tea with a few fresh mint leaves and sugar. The brightness of the mint, the strength of the tea, and the sweetness of the sugar are perfect for this poetry.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates with Coffee

I don’t know that I am qualified to write a review on this powerful book. I am not the target audience but I may be the audience that most needs to read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The author writes this short read as a letter to his son and it felt like overhearing a personal conversation. I felt like I was peering through a window into a world in which a don’t belong. It was beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking, and enlightening.

Coates writes in no-punches-held style while keeping a style that is almost lyrical. I literally just put the book down, but I already feel like I need a second reading. So much of the book is quotable and all of it is powerful.

Read this slowly. Digest each piece you are given. Drink some coffee and let Ta-Nehisi Coates influence you.


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje with Earl Grey Tea

I decided to read The English Patient after reading Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion because they share the same characters. Ondaatje’s style is so poetic and sensual that it was powerful to have the backstory for the characters. Although the novels are not dependent on each other, there is a benefit to having a deeper or richer connection to the characters.

Ondaatje asks a lot of his readers. His stories are not plot driven and do not adhere to any timeline but instead follow more in the way of memories that you drop in and out of at his whim. Although this can make the novel difficult to follow at moments,  it generally gives an organic and real feel to the novels. When you recall memories they are not often chronological or uninterrupted and his characters meet these same dilemmas. It allows the characters to be more flawed, more honest, and more human.

I love the way Ondaatje gently touches on issues of a war-torn world, while still focusing solely on the emotions of the four main characters. The war is there in every detail, damaged buildings, danger in just walking and living in mined lands, corpses, morphine addictions, loss, and suffering. These things surround the characters and their every move and yet do not overrun the novel – it still remains human, poetic, and sensual.

The most powerful moments for me were when Ondaatje confronts issues of race. The sapper opens this discussion and his experiences are there to be painfully digested. The race issues climax with the bombing of Hiroshima. This part of history is always gut-wrenching painful and Ondaatje’s handling of it is yet another viewpoint and another way for your heart to break while your anger burns at the injustice.

The English Patient is not a simple chronological read but instead a book that must be read with the heart or the soul. Don’t expect to be carried along by a streamlined plot but instead by the beauty of the words and the humanity of the characters.

I recommend earl grey tea with The English Patient.  Earl grey is strong while remaining tender, dark yet brightened by that floral citrus, and that mending of dark and light fits well with this novel by Michael Ondaatje.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje with Whiskey Flavored Tea

Michael Ondaatje is a poet and In The Skin of a Lion is beautifully poetic. The writing is non-linear. At times, the jumps in time caught me off guard and I would have to re-read a section to catch my bearings. I wasn’t sure, at first, how I felt about the jumps in time, I thought it would interrupt or confuse, but I found myself pulled along by the poetry of the storytelling. I didn’t even mind needing to stop and sort out the plot.

My favorite part of the story was Ondaatje’s portrayal of the beauty in work. I grew up in a family of construction workers and farmers and I always saw a strong beauty in their labor. Ondaatje shows the grime, the work, the sweat, the precision, the human in the work. In one of my favorite passages, he describes the dyers of leather in such beauty and color that I could imagine a painting of them. He doesn’t glorify the worker but just makes the beauty and human visible.

Ondaatje also does a powerful job of portraying the immigrant and the role of language. At one point Patrick, the main character, walks through the streets not sharing the language. The power of silence, the power of shared languages like laughter, the power of culture is shown in Ondaatje’s writing. The immigrant is shown as the heart of the city and the outsider blended as one. This portrayal felt honest without bitterness and loving without false optimism.

I can’t recommend this book saying that you will love it. I can see how it could be hated or loved until the pages wear thin. I forsee a second reading in my future and when I read it, I will drink whiskey flavored tea. In The Skin of a Lion doesn’t shy away from the grit of life and whiskey flavored tea always suits that attitude well.