Thoughtful Thursday: Margaret Walker

This is a stressful time of year for parents who are focused on the application process for their sons’ schooling. Whether our sons are applying to pre-school, elementary, junior high, high school or college, we parents are intimately involved in the process, and trying desperately not to freak out about some aspect (or all aspects) of it. Getting your son (and yourself) through this process in good shape requires planning, patience and perseverance, and is the subject of a series of articles coming soon. Since it is Thoughtful Thursday, however, the day GCP focuses on creative inspiration, we set out to find poetry and quotes to help get you through.

In the midst of our search, we came across the poetry of Margaret Walker (1915-1998), an amazing American poet and writer, and decided to focus on her work rather than the original quest. Walker was born on July 7, 1915, to a well educated minister father and a music teacher mother in Birmingham, Alabama. Walker completed her B.A. at Northwestern University (Illinois) when she was only nineteen. While living in Chicago, she was affiliated with several important writing groups, including the South Side Writers Group, where she was a close colleague of Richard Wright. Walker completed her M.A. at the University of Iowa by writing “For My People” in 1937, a work for which she later became the first African American to win the Yale Younger Poets award.

We found Walker through her poem “The Struggle Staggers Us”, but her most well known work is “For My People”. Both are below. Find out more about Margaret Walker here. Enjoy!

For My People

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
gone years and the now years and the maybe years,
washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending
hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching
dragging along never gaining never reaping never
knowing and never understanding;

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor
and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
and playhouse and concert and store and hair and
Miss Choomby and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
people who and the places where and the days when, in
memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
were black and poor and small and different and nobody
cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
marry their playmates and bear children and then die
of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox
Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New
Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy
people filling the cabarets and taverns and other
people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and
land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time
being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when
burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled
and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in
the dark of churches and schools and clubs
and societies, associations and councils and committees and
conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and
devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches,
preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
false prophet and holy believer;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
rise and take control.

The Struggle Staggers Us

Our birth and death are easy hours, like sleep
and food and drink. The struggle staggers us
for bread, for pride, for simple dignity.
And this is more than fighting to exist;
more than revolt and war and human odds.
There is a journey from the me to you.
There is a journey from the you to me.
A union of the two strange worlds must be.

Ours is a struggle from a too-warm bed;
too cluttered with a patience full of sleep.
Out of this blackness we must struggle forth;
from want of bread, of pride, of dignity.
Struggle between the morning and the night.
This marks our years; this settles, too, our plight.

1 Comment

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One response to “Thoughtful Thursday: Margaret Walker

  1. Jennifer VErmont-Davis

    Margaret Walker a brilliant American poet! Here is another brilliant poet!
    “Always experience says, “Rely on your own strength, hold fast to your own resources, desert not your own mind.” In the same sure moment, the same voice whispers, “Upon your own strength, upon your own resource, upon your own mind, at long last you cannot rely. Your own strength is weakness, your own mind is shallow, your own spirit is feeble.” The paradox: all experience strips us of much except our sheer strength of mind, of spirit. All experience reveals that upon these we must not finally depend. Brooding over us and about us, even in the shadows of the paradox, there is something more — there is a strength beyond our strength, giving strength to our strength.”

    (Howard Thurman, 1899 – 1981)

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