Angelou on Burns

That was surreal. I love Maya Angelou, I read her poems and books. I used to sit in my wee part of the world and reach out through the pages to her world, and think on her extraordinary life and extraordinary spirit. So to watch Dr. Angelou step out of that world into mine, to visit my home town of Kilmarnock, and stand by the Burns statue at the cross, where I used to eat a poke of chips for lunch, feels deeply weird. From where she’s standing, she can turn and look up through the Burns Mall, towards Killie Academy, in whose library I first lifted a Maya Angelou book off the shelf. There’s a feeling to watching this like being brushed by a ghost.

How did no one ever tell me Maya Angelou visited the town? That would have been big news. And I wasn’t fully grown, but I was already a reader back in 1996, you’d have thought I’d be aware. Especially because she was here making a documentary about Burns, Kilmarnock’s only claim to fame and thus its favourite subject.

It is so weird to see THE Maya Angelou kick about Dundonald. And she visits the Burns cottage, boring school trip staple of every primary in Ayrshire. She sits reading the Kilmarnock edition of Burns poetry in the Burns room at the Mitchell Library, and I was like, I’ve been there!

I mean you have to understand, this woman worked with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and Malcolm X. She was part of history.

Yeah, so there’s almost an eerie element for me, watching this. Seeing her setting down in Glasgow airport, everyone in the background cutting about in their best 90s shellsuit. And listening to her resonant melodic voice, with its measured meter, wrap around Ayrshire Scots words. Rolling her Rs and roughening her vowels.

It’s great she finds such communion in the work of Burns. With this country’s teatowel obsession with him, you always wonder how he’s viewed from the outside, in the more global scheme of things. But Dr Angelou finds a universality to his work, and great sensitivity and brotherhood. She talks about him writing The Slave’s Lament, despite never being in either America or Africa, but just from being touched by the plight of those transported in the slave trade.

It’s unreal to me that this documentary doesn’t get shown and isn’t widely known. I’m so glad I got the chance to see it.