Two women, two different eras, one state, and one love are my thoughts as I consider the poetry written by Margaret Walker and Patricia Neely-Dorsey. At times, I saw little in common with the ladies other than poetry as form. Walker’s poetry rocks with evils perpetrated on living man as Neely-Dorsey’s poetry sings the joys of southern living.
The two have totally different opinions as the gap in their generations is very apparent. Walker, born in 1915, spent her formative years under the shroud of an ugly segregated south; whereas, Neely-Dorsey flourished in a post-Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi.
It is Walker who sometimes centers on the negative. For example, in the poem titled “Lineage,” she up lifts her strong grandmothers to turn and knock herself down with the line, “Why am I not as they?” Neely-Dorsey remains upbeat to the core, even the poem “Right to Vote” which might easily lean to the bitter, affirms the positive:
That this was how it was;
But, believe you me, no matter what,
I vote, now, just because.
Then I began to compare the poetry and noticed some shared themes. The old adage, “write what you know,” runs throughout these poets. They talk about themselves, family members, and community characters; although, Walker speaks of the broader African-American community and Neely-Dorsey peppers hers with Tupelo locals.
One positive shared theme is sense of place as they herald the beauty of our state. Walker’s “My Mississippi Spring” hums,
flowers with forsythia,
japonica blooms, flowering quince,
bridal wreath, blood root and violet;
yellow running jasmine vine,
cape jessamine and saucer magnolias:
tulip-shaped, scenting lemon musk upon the air.
Neely-Dorsey’s “Mississippi Morning” sings,
On a summer’s day;
It’s such a grand production,
It seems we all should pay.
Another poem by Neely-Dorsey will be getting a lot of press in the coming weeks. She told an on-air personality that a mayoral candidate in Boonville requested the use of her poem “If Mississippi’s in You” for her campaign. The end of the poem proclaims,
I’m Mississippi bred,
And when I die,
I’ll be Mississippi dead.
Both books, This is My Century: New and Collected Poems by Margaret Walker and Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia: A Life in Poems by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, are equally compelling and a great way to celebrate National Poetry month.