05/29/2014 05:01 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2014

Maya Angelou -- Master of Life

Great poets have the ability to extract essence -- to cut the fat of words and thought until all they are left with is core. All masters do the same. They make things clear. They lift the every day ordinary, and turn it into "art."

Michelangelo said he "cut away the extra marble until we could see the David." Barack Obama cut through the haze of politics for millions of people to vote. Michael Jordan got people totally uninterested in sports to watch basketball. Julia Child got Americans cooking French food. Steve Jobs got us into technology. And Maya Angelou got us to love poetry.

All successful people are poets, able to distill what they do down to a simplified essence that moves us.

Poetry turns activity into ART.

There were other basketball players but one Michael Jordan, plenty of black politicians but one Barack Obama, other middle-aged cooks but one Julia Child, lots of computer geeks but one Steve Jobs and other poets but only one Maya Angelou...

When I ask the tens of thousands of Los Angeles County teenagers I meet in schools every year, which poets they know... nine times out of 10, the only one they can name is Maya.

Mediocre masters intimidate. They make us feel less than. Unworthy. Not smart. Not part of their "club." The telling of a true master, a timeless one, is that they make a language and world usually unaccessible accessible. They invite the masses in. You don't need an education to understand Van Gogh. His work is beyond education. True "masters" don't require that we "know" their world. Spend years learning it, decoding it, until we exit full of arrogance with that air of "if you were smarter you'd get it" vibe. True masters invite us IN. And the more successful they are at doing this, the more they are loved.

Maya, you were more than a master of poetry, you were a master of life -- distilling challenges, circumstances, history, segregation, revolution, loneliness, motherhood, rape, learning, work and life to their essence and escalating them to beauty through art.

Maya, in addition to lifting your poetry... you lifted your life, and by doing so, you lifted ours. Your gifts will linger here forever.

Maya, thanks to you we know why the caged bird sings... because inside, she has always been FREE.