April 8, 2015

The Post Office screws up its effort to honor Maya Angelou with a stamp.

They've put her smiling face next to a quote — "A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song" — that she didn't write.



As WaPo reports, the quote appeared in a 1967 children's book by Joan Walsh Anglund called "A Cup of Sun." Anglund — who is 89 — says it's her original quote (except that her "he" has been changed to "it").
A Postal Service spokesman, Mark Saunders, initially said he had never heard of the Anglund quote until The Washington Post informed him of it. In response, he sent a link to a 2013 blog post interview that quoted Angelou saying the phrase. In a later statement, he also said “numerous references” attributed the the quote to her as well.

“The Postal Service used her widely recognized quote to help build an immediate connection between her image and her 1969 nationally recognized autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ ” the statement said.
So, the Postal Service's answer is don't blame us, blame Angelou, who is not alive to say she never said she wasn't quoting somebody else.

Anglund is handling the spotlight well:
"It’s an interesting connection, and interesting it would happen and already be printed and on her stamp,” Anglund said. “I love her and all she’s done, and I also love my own private thinking that also comes to the public because it comes from what I’ve been thinking and how I’ve been feeling."
Bash the Post Office, say what you will about Angelou, but consider rewarding Anglund by buying her little book, "A Cup of Sun."

56 comments:

Laslo Spatula said...

"“I love her and all she’s done, and I also love my own private thinking that also comes to the public because it comes from what I’ve been thinking and how I’ve been feeling."

Being Nice at the office, as it were.

I am Laslo.

jr565 said...

Well she did say the quote, she just didn't say it first. She popularized the phrase as it were.

Xmas said...

You know, this sort of badly attributed quote thing is a recent meme.

jr565 said...

You tell me thst you got everything you want
And your bird can sing
But you don't get me
You don't get me.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Same fact checkers as Rolling Stone?

Chris N said...

I went into my local post office last weekend and, frankly, this isn't surprising.

rhhardin said...

It's worse.

"Author, poet, actress, and champion of civil rights Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was one of the most dynamic voices in all of 20th-century American literature."

It's nice that it's a forever stamp, though.

rhhardin said...

Though I think forever stamps are no good for overseas postage. They want a price on it for that.

robother said...

Of course, you could also buy the Maya Angelou book "A Cup of Schmaltz." What hath Rod McCuen wrot?

Chris N said...

That's Saturday morning, for an hour, with a homeless guy hanging around outside, 20 min in line, 10 min at the desk waiting for a form and 30 min to clear up an issue about a P.O. Box making other people wait as they stared at the back of my head, likely wishing death upon me.

Anonymous said...

Anglund, Angelou: One was a plagiarist?

Bob Boyd said...

A stamp for our time.
The facts are wrong, but its gender neutral and politically correct.

Darrell said...

They should have used her quote about the dinosaur crapping. That one's hers.

Darrell said...

The "top men and women" that the USPS employs used an internet search to confirm the source. It;s attributed to Angelou at most of those.

CWJ said...

rhhardin,

They sell international forever stamps as well.

I Callahan said...

As one wag recently put it: "The country's in the very best of hands."

Gahrie said...

Can the Obama administration do anything right?

Unknown said...

But wait, there's more! Angelou is being honored, at least in part, as a poet. But when she changed "he" to "it," she changed poetry to prose. The sentence works fine (if somewhat tritely) as prose. Say it to yourself, using "it," out loud, or silently in your head. Now, say it in the original, using "he."
Do you hear the difference? With "he," it's almost impossible not to have a sing-song, almost musical (fittingly) lilt creep in. The rhythm goes: la LAH la-la lah, la-lah-la-la-la LAH-la [pause] la LAH [pause] la-lah-la-la-la LAH.
Changing "he" to "it" breaks that warbling flow. The reason: the sound "becawseeyas" is much easier to form, fluidly, than "becawsitas," which puts a little fricative between "it" and "has," and an even worse stop, if you voice the "h" of "has." That "h" can't flow from "it," the way it can, from "he."
I wonder if there is any recording of Angelou pronouncing this phrase. My guess is that Anglund is correct--it was unintentional recollection of the idea. Whether changing the sweet, lilting, slight and lovely little line into prose proves that Angelou is a lesser or greater poet, than Anglund, I will leave to others to debate. You could call it either way. Btw, count me among the millions and millions of now-middle-aged (and, ok, white--did/does Anglund have a black following? I'd be interested to know) women who loved Anglund's works, as a child, so much so that when I saw her name, I felt that I knew it, but had to look her up to see from where. That little curlicue signature on the covers of the books must have stayed with me, all these years. I went through a phase, at age 7, of drawing children in her style.

CWJ said...

Chris N,

A tale of two post offices. Gladstone's post office is uniformly awful regardless of time day or who's on duty. The experience you describe is the norm. North Kansas City's post office is uniformly excellent. This difference between the two has been the case for years and I can't explain why.

Tank said...

The picture of Maya above very closely resembles that statue of Lucy. They should just re-label the Lucy statue and say it's for Maya.

richard mcenroe said...

Wow.
They really DO all look alike to Democrats.

gspencer said...

The USPS screw up was not the quote.

It was "honoring" this so-called poetess in the first place.

Big Mike said...

Under the Obama administration the rot reached the Department of Health and Human Services, which couldn't even build a simple web site and verify that it could handle the projected workload. It reached Homeland Security, which was warned by Russians about the Tsarnaev but did nothing to stop them from exploding a bomb at the Boston Marathon. It reached the Justice Department and the IRS.

And now it's even reached the US Postal Service.

Cleanup will take decades.

Big Mike said...

Add the State Department to the list of Obama adminstration's failures.

Sammy Finkelman said...

Strictly speaking, it is only plagiarism if you attempt to copyright, or sell, or get a credential from the words.

People may have thought either it was hers or it was proverbial.

It is entirely plausible that Maya Angelou deliberately left people with the mis-impression that she had coined the saying.

tim maguire said...

Amazon is selling new copies for $57, used for $18. Today.

I wonder what it was yesterday.

rhhardin said...

I think Australia checks the postage total on mail fromt he US.

jr565 said...

Are we sure birds don't have an answer when they sing? Songs can provide answers. So maybe birds are answering throug song. Or maybe birds dont really sing and are merely providing answers. We just assume they are singing because their voices have a mi
Use sl quality to them.
Whoever said it first, I question the veracity.

BarrySanders20 said...

I wonder if the post office will pull the stamp due to the error, making the misquote a collector's item.

Fernandinande said...

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,

That's correct. Birds make distinctive noises to establish territory and attract mates of the same species.

They're essentially saying to other birds "get out of here" or "hey, babe, do you come here often?".

SteveBrooklineMA said...

The poem works better with "he."

AJ Lynch said...

Bob Boyd's comment at 9:15 wins the thread.

Skipper said...

How about the Postal Service concentrating on delivering mail and not going broke?

Anonymous said...

Who can forget Angelou's epic prose poem "On the Pulse of Morning", delivered at Clinton's first inauguration?

Everyone, apparently.

Horrible stuff. Went through your brain at lightning speed, leaving no trace.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

That's correct. Birds make distinctive noises to establish territory and attract mates of the same species.

We had a woodpecker who would hammer away at our aluminum gutters making a horrendous racket.

And at the time I thought, "Dumb bird, that behavior will get you no insects, whatsoever."

Seemed like he gave me a sneer, but I couldn't figure out why.

William said...

Their names are similar, and there's a kind of neural connection between the two quotes. You don't just print the legend. You quote the legend. Ambrose Bierce quotes are much better if you attribute them to Mark Twain. I don't know if Lloyd George ever said anything pithy or pungent, but, if get did, it probably got attributed to Winston Churchill.

sydney said...

They aren't very good at delivering mail, either.

Sammy Finkelman said...

gspencer said...

"The USPS screw up was not the quote.

It was "honoring" this so-called poetess in the first place."

That's true, bit you can blame Bill Clinton (and some others) for that.

Sammy Finkelman said...

SteveBrooklineMA said...

The poem works better with "he."

But that wouldn't be feminist.

Brando said...

My theory is that poetry is an elaborate scam to trick us rubes into thinking putting words together in strange, illogical ways is an art form.

One day we Homer Simpsons will rise up and club them good!

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


The bigger sin is changing "he" to "it".

That said, "Bawahahahhahahahaha".

Way to go, PC Police.

Always good for a daily beclowning.

Smilin' Jack said...

...consider rewarding Anglund by buying her little book, "A Cup of Sun."

Why would anyone do that? Anglund's face will never be on a stamp. She's white.

Gahrie said...

One day we Homer Simpsons will rise up and club them good!

Club them well

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

That dim-witted Simpson named Homer
Says EVERY poem's a groaner
Bashing heads' a good start
And to hell with all Art
Life's way better lived as a stoner.

Fernandinande said...

Ha ha.

robother said...

How can Boyd win the thread, when his apostrophe is missing an apostrophe?

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

That's a run-on sentence, which I find terribly annoying. That should be a semicolon, not a comma.

Fernandinande said...

Anglund is handling the spotlight well:

Does the P.O owe her some royalties?

dbp said...

Angelou: So worthy of a stamp that the most memorable quote they could come up with, wasn't even written by her.

Simon said...

What disturbs me is the notion now being bruited that the stamps are just fine--that even though it isn't Angelou's phrase, the pervasive misattribution has permitted her to gain title to it by a kind of unconscious adverse possession. As if it's academic or gauche to point out that she didn't actually say it because it's truthy enough.

Skeptical Voter said...

Your post office--here to serve you with the same level of competence we've always displayed.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Could this Post Office botch up be Karma for Maya's consulting role in the 2011 MLK memorial quote fail, of which Maya herself said:

"The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit."

lemondog said...

Ah, ha! So that why they pulled the plug in DC ....

Oprah Caught in Blackout During Maya Angelou Stamp Unveiling

David Begley said...

Is this a copyright problem? Actually a double problem.

Can the real owner of this intellectual property sue the USPS for damages?

Chris N said...

I'll take the Cuppa Schmaltz, the bus station diverso-mural, and $17 trillion in debt please.

Clyde said...

It used to be that a celebrity had to be dead for ten years to get on a postage stamp. That's long enough to get attribution for quotes right, I guess. These days, you can put pretty much anything you want on a personalized stamp, including live people. I think I liked the old way better.