“Once” – Poems by Alice Walker

OnceAliceWalker

I bought this short book of poems by Alice Walker from The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. It’s a slim book and all the poems are short, so I read through it fairly quickly. Overall, I liked the book. There were some poems I really connected with, and then some, not so much.

The earlier poems in the collection deal with racism and those I found to be the most powerful, especially in the current racially charged social climate. The later poems were love poems that slipped into what felt like self-pity over failed relationships. And while I don’t mean to diminish the pain of a failed relationship (I’ve felt this myself), those types of poems are just not my personal preference.

In the poem “African Images, Glimpses from a Tiger’s Back,” Walker writes:

in my journal
I thought I could
capture
everything. . . .

I love this image, particularly because I am a journal writer. I’ve been keeping a journal for many years and have one shelf half full of completed journals. I know some people don’t like to keep their journals around for fear someone will read them. Me – I don’t care. I know my family won’t read them while I am around, and after I am dead, then I really don’t care if my family reads them. In fact, I like the idea that my children and their children’s children might have the opportunity to look back on my life, hear about the things I did, the thoughts I had living in this strange and exciting period of human existence.

The poem “Once,” which the book is titled after, is by far the best poem in the book. It deals with racism on multiple levels, because, let’s face it, racism exists on many levels. One of the passages that stands out is about a mother’s disgust with her daughter for being in an interracial relationship.

One day in
Georgia
Working around
the Negro section
My friend got a
letter
in
the mail
–the letter
said
“I hope you’re
having a good
time
fucking all
the niggers.”

“Sweet,” I winced.
“Who
wrote it?”

“mother.”
she
said.

As I look around, I see that we have come a long way in addressing racism, but that we still have a long way to go. There is still hatred and prejudice directed towards people of different ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. I just hope some day soon we will all begin to recognize that we are all essentially similar, and that our differences are something to be celebrated, not hated. On that note, I want to end with one more passage from the poem “Once.”

what will we
finally do
with
prejudice

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