Sunday, April 28, 2013

Frank X Walker - Kentucky's Youngest and First Black Poet Laureate

On Wednesday, April 24 Frank X Walker, age 53, became Kentucky's youngest and first black Poet Laureate. He is an associate professor in the University of Kentucky's English Department and Director of the school's African American and Africana Studies program. He received his journalism  degree from UK. Walker's "Affrilachia" was published in 2000 and is was responsible for spreading both his name and his message of the role of African Americans in the history of the Appalachian region internationally. Walker has written six books of poetry, his latest being "Turn Me Loose: the Unghosting of Medgar Evers".

Walker was raised by his two sisters and his late mother in the projects of Danville, KY where he got more excited about the bookmobile's visits to his neighborhood than other kids got about the ice cream truck. In fact, as a child, he considered the driver of that bookmobile to be his dream job.

Governor Stephen Beshear described Walker in this way:
“To read Frank X Walker is to sometimes leave yourself emotionally exhausted. His poems take you to uncomfortable places – cemeteries and prisons, street corners, mountain hollers, playgrounds, poverty, the kitchen of an angry mother, the heart of an anxious father," said Beshear. "And you leave these scenes both drained of energy and a little bit more enlightened. He helps you recognize things about yourself, including things you'd rather not embrace. And he does this in the context of Kentucky's complex history.” 
Below is one of his poems from "Affrilachia". It is titled "Statues of Liberty" and honors the strong women that raised him.
mamma scrubbed
rich white porcelain
and hard wood floors
on her hands and knees
hid her pretty face and body
in sack dresses
and aunt jemima scarves
from predators
who assumed
for a few extra dollars
before Christmas
in dark kitchen pantries
they could unwrap her
aunt helen, her sister
took in miss emereen’s laundry
every Sunday morning
sent it back
hand washed, air dried,
ironed, folded
and cleaner
than any professional service

she waited patiently
for her good white woman
to die
and make good on her promise
to leave her
a little something
only to leave her first

aunt bertha, the eldest
exported her maternal skills
to suburbia
to provide surrogate attention
to children of money and privilege
and spent every other moment
preaching about
the richness of the afterlife
before the undertaker
took her
to see for herself

washer women
a whole generation
of portable day care centers
traded their days for dimes
allowing other women
the freedom to shop
and sunbathe
the opportunity to school
or work

this curse-swallowing sorority
dodged dicks
and bosses
before postwar women
punched clocks
they birthed civil and human rights
gave the women’s movement
sacrificed their then
to pave the way for a NOW
their hard-earned pennies
sent us off to college
and into the world
our success is their reward
are their monuments
but they
are our statues of liberty

You can check out Mr Walker's web site by clicking here.

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