Human Rights Poetry of Alice Walker
Jeffrey L. Coleman
The tongue mounts the hand and produces writing. When tongue and hand work together, they unite art and politics and attack the dominant ideology. For many of us the acts of writing, painting, performing and filming are acts of deliberate and desperate determination to subvert the status quo. Creative acts are forms of political activism employing definite aesthetic strategies resisting dominant cultural norms and are not merely aesthetic exercises.
-- Making Face, Making Soul, Gloria Anzaldua
I think it is more than safe to assume that when one hears/reads the name Alice Walker, it is the genre of fiction that immediately comes to mind; most likely it is The Color Purple one initially thinks of. Justifiable or not, this privileging of Walker's fiction will perhaps forever be with us. After all, it is this genre, the novel, that garnered Walker the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. However, such achievements should not necessarily preclude or exclude serious attention toward Walker's other creative and cultural productions. I am thinking mainly, but not exclusively, of Walker's poetry especially those poems that directly address the themes of civil and human rights, which can be found in abundance throughout Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965 1990.
Her Blue Body includes poems from Walker's four collections of poetry--Once; Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems; Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning; and Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful--in addition to a final section titled We Have a Beautiful Mother: Previously Uncollected Poems." Walker's poetry, however, is not as widely acknowledged or recognized as her fiction and essays, which constitutes a substantive disservice to the author. Nor does her poetry deserve the disturbing and overwhelming amount of silence and critical neglect it has received. For example, when Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Kwame Anthony Appiah published Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present in 1993, they found only two essays either available or worthy of inclusion that directly concerned Walker's poetry. Aside from Hanna Nowak's Poetry Celebrating Life and Thadious Davis's Poetry as Preface to Fiction," none of the twenty-three reviews, essays, and interviews included in that collection positions Walker's poetry as centrally or significantly relevant to her development as a writer. And as indicated by Davis's title--Poetryas Preface to Fiction