VITAL SIGNSrnAnatomy of anrnInaugural Poemrnby John Meioney, Jr.rnDiversity and thernMaya Angelou StoryrnEvidence that Maya Angelou mayrnhave borrowed from another poemrnfor the one she dehvered at Bill Clinton’srninauguration was reported in thisrnmagazine last December. The WhiternHouse, having seen the DecemberrnChronicles and the subsequent news storiesrnabout it, appears to have opted torndistance itself from Angelou rather thanrnto defend her. Apparently, the WhiternHouse is cognizant of the fact that at thisrnpoint in the Clintons’ presidency, it cannotrnrisk yet another instance of thingsrnnot being what they seem.rnIn 1985, Norton F. Tennille, Jr., arnWashington, D.C., lawyer for the prestigiousrnJones, Day, Reavis & Pogue lawrnfirm, wrote a poem, “Outward Bound,”rnfollowing a wilderness adventure withrnthe North Carolina Outward BoundrnSchool, an educational organization thatrnpromotes self-reliance. It was widely distributedrnthroughout North Carolinarnamong individuals connected with thernOutward Bound program. Tennille’srnpoem begins “Rock, rope, river, hands”rnand uses those images, and that of therntree, as its structure. When Tennillernheard Angelou deliver “On the Pulse ofrnMorning,” which opens with “A Rock, ArnRiver, A Tree,” he immediately recognizedrnthe resemblance.rnTennille wrote to Angelou, who, duringrnthe days between her selection byrnClinton and her reading at the swearinginrnceremony, had met with individualsrnconnected with Outward Bound andrn”shared her struggle” by recounting therndifficulties she was having composingrnthe poem. Tennille sent Angelou copiesrnof both poems on which he diagramedrnthe parallel structure and noted the identicalrnimagery and themes. Tennille askedrnher, “Did you ever read my poem, andrndid you draw on its concept, structure,rn[and] images in constructing your own?”rnTennille made additional inquiries tornAngelou’s publisher. Random House,rnand her employer. Wake Forest University.rnA year later, Tennille has yet to receivernany response from Angelou, herrnpublisher, or Thomas K. Hearn, Jr., presidentrnof Wake Forest. Angelou, whosernreal name is Marguerite Johnson, has alsornfailed to respond to my numerous, repeatedrnquestions about this matter, asrnwell as to questions from other mediarnrepresentatives.rnRandom House published Wouldn’trnTake Nothing for My journey Now lastrnfall and sent Angelou on a frenzied publicityrntour to promote her small collectionrnof short essays. She lurched at interviewersrnwho asked about the creationrnof the poem. Her bizarre reaction wasrnnever more blatant than on CharliernRose’s PBS talk-show. Rose merely utteredrnthe words “A Rock, A River, ArnTree,” and before he could even articulaternhis question, Angelou lunged back,rn”Shall I tell you about the rock?” Shernattributed the images of the poem tornthe “African-American soul.”rnParticularly important to her was thatrnthe poem has been “translated into 40rnlanguages or so.” Said Angelou: “I mayrnget three translations of my poem inrnBengali and of course the alphabet isrnnot recognizable to me. The only way Irnknow it’s my poem is there’s a tree, arndrawing of a rock, and a stream withrnsome frisky hsh in it,” and she moved herrnhands to simulate a fish swimming.rnLetters Tennille exchanged with Angelou’srnpublicist and stockbroker werernunavailable to me when I wrote my Decemberrnreport. These documents providernnew insight. Both men told Tennille,rn”I hope you will let this matterrnrest.” Perhaps they were afraid of whatrncould become of the evidence that appearsrnto be against her.rn”I fail to understand why an intelligentrnattorney would spend so much timernsearching for similarities which do notrnexist,” wrote Robert J. Brown, presidentrnof B&C Associates, Inc., a High Point,rnNorth Carolina, outfit that schedulesrnAngelou’s press interviews. “I was fortunaternto have witnessed the creation ofrnDr. Angelou’s inaugural poem,” saidrnBrown. “While I sat nearby, she wroternand then recited the lines she composed.rnIt was fascinating to watch her work.”rnIf Brown’s story is accurate, it conflictsrnwith Angelou’s vivid account ofrnthe method she used to write the poem,rna ritual she claims to have used throughoutrnher entire literary career. She secludesrnherself in a local motel room,rnwhere she instructs the manager to removernany paintings or decorative materialrnthat may distract her solitude, andrnwith a Bible, thesaurus, yellow legal pad,rnand bottle of sherry she begins to write.rnBeing in a motel room with her pressrnagent as she writes her literature, askingrnhim every few minutes if he approves ofrnthe work in progress, is a marked departurernfrom her normal routine.rnLetters from Campbell Cawood, Angelou’srnstockbroker at Alex, Brown &rnSons, Inc., in Winston-Salem, were evenrnmore curious. “She and I have beenrnpersonal friends since her arrival inrnWinston-Salem,” said Cawood. “I toornwas in close contact with her while [therninaugural poem] was being composed,”rnhe wrote. When I later questioned Cawoodrnabout this assertion, he denied it,rnsaying, “I wasn’t there,” and then, in thernsame interview, “I don’t know if I wasrnthere because I was there several timesrnwhen she was in a composing mode—rnshe thinks fluidly, constantly.” Cawoodrnrefused to concede in his letter that Angelournhad borrowed from Tennille’srnpoem, saying only that Angelou had liftedrn”biblical verses,” “beloved spiritualrnhymns,” “our Constitution,” and “manyrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn