Thursday, January 31, 2013
The Voice of Margaret Walker
After discussing the repetitive theme of violence in Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, it is interesting to look back to Margaret Walker’s “For My People” for comparison. Written in 1939, this poem followed the emerging talent of the Harlem Renaissance, a time when black culture and art truly intertwined. Researching Walker has led me to find a theme of a non-violent call to action amongst her work. In a biography from the Poetry Foundation her writing is described as, “the first work by a black writer to speak out for the liberation of the black woman. The cornerstones of a literature that affirms the African folk roots of black American life… looking toward a new cultural unity for black Americans that will be built on that foundation.” “For My People” looked to the future with hope, aspiration, and, what seemed relatively new at that time, from a woman’s perspective.
I wanted to return to this poem after learning more about Walker in an attempt to better understand its meaning and purpose. Looking towards literary device as a foundation for any poem, “For My People” combines free verse narrative style with lyrical sonnet. As mentioned in her biography, Walker’s father was a minister and her mother was a musician. The inspiration for her poetic style in this poem can be tied to her upbringing. Each verse begins with “For my/the” except for the last stanza (“Let”), reminiscent of a song’s structure. In each of these verses she is calling on people, “my playmates” or “the boys and girls,” which all leads to her final call to action for these separate entities to unite. It is also important to recognize her syntax, especially her decision to exclude commas in certain sentences. When I read this poem for the second time I felt as if I could understand her voice and the power that came with these lack of commas.
The final stanza, which begins with “Let a new earth rise,” is composed of separate sentences all beginning with “Let.” As a class, we discussed the importance of such a word- and I believe that Walker is speaking to the future by using it repetitively. She is not demanding violence or claiming that violence will bring forth unity, but rather, she is asserting that “courage,” “loving freedom,” and “strength,” more importantly, will “Let a race of men now rise and take control.” Each verse of “For My People” describes the life of the African American community within a span of time, from year to year and from struggle to struggle. Her last stanza makes a statement about the current, but more powerfully about the unforeseen future. Reflecting on a past of inaction, she declares that the young generations must set forth to make a difference.