Margaret Walker Essay - Walker, Margaret (Vol. 6)

Walker, Margaret (Vol. 6)

Walker, Margaret 1915–

Margaret Walker, a Black American poet and novelist, is a professor of English and director of a Black studies institute. For My People, her first poetry collection, is still her best known work.

[In For My People] Walker used the classical sonnet form (sometimes without rhyme) to write about Negroes. The sonnet about miners and sharecroppers titled Childhood, and the one titled The Struggle Staggers Us are outstanding. (p. 232)

[Probably] influenced by Carl Sandburg, she wrote some poems in long free-verse paragraphs like those of Fenton Johnson. The most famous of these is the title poem, For My People. This poem gains its force not by tropes—turns of language or thought—or logical development of a theme, but by the sheer overpowering accumulation of a mass of details delivered in rhythmical parallel phrases. We Have Been Believers is another powerful poem in a similar form and on a racial theme. (pp. 232-33).

Dudley Randall, in The Black Aesthetic, edited by Addison Gayle, Jr. (© 1971 by Dudley Randall; reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Co., Inc.), Doubleday, 1971.

[Margaret Walker's] free-verse paragraphs, in [For My People], tread upon each other's heels, full of their own case histories of the actual character of life in her Negro South and Negro North. In these case histories and in her expression of a millennial hope—"for my people … Let a new earth arise … another world be born"—she speaks in a secular vein, joining the wave of social activism that would lead on to school desegregation, Montgomery, the sit-ins, and Soul on Ice, as well as to a changing life style for the Negro masses.

In the matter of her style, Whitmanesque as her methods appear, and to some extent are, the precedent which she follows most, nevertheless, harks back to a folkway from the Negro past that is not secular, i.e., to the mourners' bench of revival time in an "oldtime" Negro church when an "oldtime" Negro preacher called not only upon the mourners to mend their ways, but also upon his whole church to "rock," to join him in the singing, shouting, praying, and movements of the body that were all done in the rolling rhythms which control the rhythmic flow of For My People. (p. 68)

Blyden Jackson, in Black Poetry in America: Two Essays in Historical Interpretation, by Blyden Jackson and Louis D. Rubin, Jr. (copyright © 1974 by Louisiana State University Press), Louisiana State University Press, 1974.