Saturday, April 30, 2011

Poetry Podcast: Selections from "Hard Times Require Furious Dancing" by Alice Walker

"Her poems are medicine for the soul ." --  Artist Shiloh McCloud from the introduction to "Hard Times Require Furious Dancing"

Listen to the poems here:

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Alice Walker's name is almost synonymous with her best-known, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Color Purple."  Yet, to define her solely as a novelist would be like defining light as simply white.  When viewed through a prism, many colors are revealed.   To view Walker through a prism is to see not only a novelist, but a "poet, short story writer ... essayist, anthologist, teacher and womanist activist,"  according to her official biography.
Alice Walker

Walker has directed the focus to the poetry band of her spectrum with her latest collection of poems titled "Hard Times Require Furious Dancing," published in October 2010. The poems were written over the course of one year and are an array of responses to joy and sorrow from a personal to a global level.

It is an example of how the act of writing poetry can be both cathartic and therapeutic and has been used by women as a vehicle for expression of their unique voices for centuries.

Walker describes herself as a "womanist."  It's a term she created that shakes up the definition of feminism and opens up a new, broader perspective.

In her paper titled, "Defining Black Feminist Thought," Patricia Hill Collins says, "Alice Walker's preference for the term womanist  -- a term she describes as 'womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender" -- addresses this notion of the solidarity of humanity.  To Walker, one is womanist when one is 'committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.'"

Many women of color felt marginalized by the mainstream liberal feminist movement that benefited mostly middle class, white women.  And their feelings were valid. The early feminist movement, whether blindly or intentionally, assumed the sameness of all women overlooking the issues of race and class. 

Feminist writer bell hooks underscores Walker's womanist/feminist simile by giving her own definition of feminism, as quoted by Hill, "To me, feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure that women will have equal rights with men; it is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels -- sex, race, and class to name a few -- and a commitment to reorganizing U.S. society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires."

The poems that make up "Hard Times Require Furious Dancing," are a poetic manifesto in support of human solidarity, a tenet of womanism.

Therefore, the old feminist credo of "the personal is political" could perhaps be revised to "the individual is universal."

Related Links:  Alice Walker's website, Palm of Her Hand Foundation.

Bonus:  Alice Walker's interview on NPR's "Tell Me More."  Hear "Loving Humans" in her own voice:

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