Friday 15 December 2017


Margaret Walker's career was contemporaneous with black liberation in the United States of the 20th Century. The daughter of a Methodist minister, she grew up in the deep south of Alabama, but went north for her education on the advice of Langston Hughes, then virtually the only well-known black poet in America, and came to be nearly as well known herself. One of the things that strikes me about this poem is that she is free from the pressures that an Irish poet, male or female, black or white, would feel in writing about childhood and her native place. A sort of pietism, almost compulsory for an Irish poet, in writing about both the place and the people, is not expected of her.

Margaret Walker

When I was a child I knew red miners dressed raggedly and wearing carbide lamps.

I saw them come down red hills to their camps

dyed with red dust from old Ishkooda mines.

Night after night I met them on the roads,

or on streets in town I caught their glance;

the swing of dinner buckets in their hands,

and grumbling undermining all their words.

I also lived in low cotton country

where moonlight hovered over ripe haystacks,

or stumps of trees, and croppers' rotting shacks

with famine, terror, flood, and plague near by;

where sentiment and hatred still held sway

and only bitter land was washed away.

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