When I was growing up, I would always hear these jovial stories about the Harlem Renaissance, how African Americans started to spread or showcase culture. I was first taught about the music painting a fun picture but as I got older, I was exposed to writers like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. They were excellent writers but Margaret Walker, who I was just recently exposed to, had a powerful prose style poem titled “For My People”. The title already lets us know who this poem is directed to and she makes sure to empower ‘her people’ as well as critique them.
Throughout the poem, she opens the stanzas with “For my people”, and I think her use of repetition makes the poem read differently. Instead of painting picture with the over saturation of metaphors she paints each picture with straight forward speech. Each stanza she’s grouping everyone that she’ll call to action. A reader may feel like she’s dragging things on but she’s leading the reader to her solution. “Let a new earth rise”. Considering what is happening during this time period, what does that statement mean? I believe she’s pushing for freedom, encouraging the reader and ‘her people’ (African Americans) to be free. During the time period there wasn’t much of any freedom for ‘her people’ and she makes that known throughout the poem. Lines like, “For my people...dragging along never gaining never reaping never knowing and never understanding” and “For my people walking blindly spreading joy”, gave me an image of people that have no freedom, these lines also felt as if she was critiquing her target audience. What images could you draw from those lines too? Would you agree that she is critiquing as well? C. Liegh McInnis of The Project on the History of Black Writing, http://www.projecthbw.ku.edu, states that "the imagery of “For my People” paints a vivid picture that forces readers to face the horrors of black life while also being encouraged by its beauties and successes, as the repetition and cadence is an inspiring drumbeat, marching readers through the photo collage of black life and toward the mission of surviving and thriving" and that is what I got from "For My People" also.
She also used present tense for majority of the poem and gives imagery from the past, then finished in the last stanza painting a picture of the future. What do you think that could mean? Maybe by blending the past and future together she’s giving the idea that the past and future is the present. I believe she’s saying that the world is stuck in the past and that things must change for a better future, but I am sure there are any other themes/interpretations. While I am sure she is directing this poem to African Americans I still feel like there is a call to action for everyone, not just African Americans. “For all my people...trying to fashion a world that will hold all people the people, all the faces”, I believe she doesn’t just want better for ‘her people’ I think she wants better for everyone.