Margaret Walker’s This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems: So Much More Than Just Your Average Poetry Collection
By Brandie Failey |
Oh boy, here I am again. Back at it again being forced to write another book review for one of my classes at Lehman College. Last time it was a novel, but this time it’s This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems written by Margaret Walker. Last time was also different because I had no inspiration for writing the review, but this time I got lucky. This book review comes at the perfect crossroad—that is, me being in an American Literature class, and also this being the time of selecting our next presidential candidates, and boy do I love talking about politics and this country, so here we go!
This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems is a compilation of Margaret Walker’s life’s work. The poem collection features five sections: “For My People”—where the poems mostly talk about the struggles that black people faced—”Prophets For A New Day” and “October Journey”—where the poems talk about black people fighting for changes in the racist South and some of the victories and setbacks that they faced—and lastly “This Is My Century” and “Farish Street” —where the poems mostly talk about enjoying the present day and reflecting on how far we have come.
Having been in my American literature class for a few weeks now, after I finished reading Walker’s poetry collection I was amazed. I noticed something that I had never noticed before, and that is that Walker has created a timeless helping-hand to black people all over the world, experiencing turmoil in any era. To agree with this conclusion you must first understand how I came to realize it. In my American Literature class, we have read multiple narratives that have taught us that although we are all American by default, we may not always truly feel that we belong to that group deep in our hearts because of what it stands for. Taking this into consideration and given the history of how they came to reside here, it comes as no surprise that most black people do not feel like they really belong here, or are even accepted here for that matter. This idea is something that Margaret Walker seems to understand and seems to want to help with. Although she speaks of a different time period, no matter what problems black people seem to be facing, there is always a poem that has an answer for it.
For instance, with Barack Obama’s presidency coming to an end, some black people are worried that the next president will push black problems and needs aside, leaving us with no one to look out for our best interests. However, if you read some of Walker’s poems you will see that she has a soothing response for this worry. In the section “This is My Century,” the poem “Five Black Men… and Ten Will Save the City” describes some of the men who fought for equality for blacks against all odds. The poem reads “Douglass, Du Bois, Garvey, King, and Malcolm X / Five black men whose leadership we cherish in the history books / from Slavery to Segregation and the Age of Integration / down the primrose path to face oblivion.” Here we see that although none of these men were the president of the United States, they still did wonders for the black community. The same idea can be applied to the upcoming presidential election. Although we will no longer have a black president, there will always be leaders looking out for the black community.
Another instance where Walker’s poems can provide a soothing helping-hand in an era other than her own is when talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. The killing of innocent black men, women, and children has the entire community feeling extremely worthless. It seems as though our days are numbered and there is nothing that we can do to stop it. However, while reading the section “Prophets For A New Day,” the poem “Sit-ins” gave me hope. It reads:
You were our first brave ones to defy their dissonance of hate
With your silence
With your willingness to suffer
With courage and faith, convictions, and intelligence
The first to blaze a flaming path for justice
And awaken consciences.
Here I recognized that we’ve been through this type of injustice before, and instead of feeling hopeless, we need to fight back with courage, faith, convictions, and intelligence, or we will never get on the path of justice. These are just two of the many instances where Walker’s poetry can be used as a timeless helping-hand to black people all over the world experiencing turmoil in any era.
Overall, Margaret Walker’s This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems gave me so much more than I expected to receive. Not only are these poems written with style, skill, and grace, but you also get to see the author wear her heart on her sleeve. If this isn’t enough, the collection also doubles as a self-help book in the way that you can always find an answer to your problems. Finally, to top it all off, you really feel like there is someone out there who understands, and is not afraid to talk about the black experience. This poetry collection is a must-read for everyone! For those looking for guidance, a good read, or even a history lesson, look no further than Margaret Walker’s This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems.
Brandie Failey is an English Literature major at Lehman College and a future educator. She loves nature and admires the work of William Wordsworth.