For My People

BY Margaret Walker
THIS is a first volume of poetry by a Negro author. It will appeal to anyone interested in the technique of poetry, because of Miss Walker’s experiments in rhythmical language, but it will appeal on other grounds too. It is often argued that the critic’s business is to judge poetry entirely as poetry; but poetry cannot exist apart from its subject matter, and most of the subject matter of this volume has a specific interest. It evokes immediately in the reader the whole social and human situation in America between the colored and the white peoples.
Miss Walker speaks in a variety of verse forms. The poem which gives its name to the volume uses a chanting rhythm, Biblical in pattern but entirely modern in vocabulary; there is a section of rhyming ballads, creating character sketches of figures of legend or reality; and there are original experiments in the sonnet form. All have a peculiar genuineness of tone quality— the quality of the speaking voice, not of literary artifice. Perhaps this is why it is a difficult poetry to quote from. There are no lines which detach themselves easily as satisfying examples of concise thought or feeling, or peculiar syllabic melody. Each poem is a sustained utterance flowing from start to finish. We have been believers and How many years since 1619 have I been singing spirituals? are perhaps the best illustrations. E. D.