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Alice Walker, The World Will Follow Joy; Turning Madness Into Flowers {New Poems} (New York: The New Press, 2013), 191pp.Alice Walker, The World Will Follow Joy; Turning Madness Into Flowers {New Poems} (New York: The New Press, 2013), 191pp.

           Alice Walker (b. 1944) is best known for her 1982 novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and was adapted into a movie and Broadway musical of the same name. In fact, Walker started writing when she was eight years old. She's been a prolific author with over thirty books, and a tireless activist for global human rights. Raised in Jim Crow Georgia, her mother was a maid and her father a sharecropper. After a year at Spelman College, where Howard Zinn was one of her professors, Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College.

           Like most of her life and work, these sixty poems are meant to provoke the reader's activism. The poems were written between October 2009 and August 2011. They reflect the unusual mix of her life that includes the rich and famous, along with the poor and anonymous. There are poems here about the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, Yoko Ono, Gloria Steinem, Oprah, and Cornell West, but also about African orphans, mothers in Gaza, martyrs for Egypt's democracy movement, experiences in the Himalayas, and what it's like to grow old.

           If there's a single poem that captures the spirit of the book, perhaps it's "Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems" (142–143):

Every revolution needs fresh poems
that is the reason
poetry cannot die.
It is the reason poets
go without sleep
and sometimes without lovers
without new cars
and without fine clothes
the reason we commit
to facing the dark
resign ourselves, regularly, to the possibility
of being wrong.
Poetry is leading us.
It never cares how we will
be held by lovers
or drive fast
or look good
in the moment;
but about how completely
we are committed
to movement
both inner and outer;
and devoted to transformation
and to change.

In other words, if we hope to turn madness into flowers, our human compassion must include political commitment. Poets like Walker help us to do that. For more on Walker, see the documentary film by Pratibha Palmer called Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (2013), first aired on the BBC in July 2013.

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