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Poetry Review    

 

Affrilachia
By Frank X. Walker
Old Cove Press, 2000
Paperback, $12.50 (100 pages)
ISBN:  0-9675424-0-5
 

 

 
 

As the title of Frank X. Walker’s first book of poems Affrilachia implies, Walker succeeds in bringing to the forefront of southern poetry, and in particular Appalachian poetry, a voice long under-represented, that of the southern African-American.  More than a political statement and simple play on words, this collection of poems speaks not only to Walker’s Kentucky roots and southern life, but to his experience as an African-American, and more importantly as a participant of the human experience.

In the title poem, “Affrilachia,” Walker addresses the vacuum in which the southern African-American and poet have both found themselves, “anywhere in appalachia / is about as far / as you could get / from our house / in the projects /”

But the stanza turns as we see the Walker’s predicament both as a poet searching for place and a person reconciling their past and values, “yet / a mutual appreciation / for fresh greens / and corn bread / an almost heroic notion / of family and porches / make us kinfolk / somehow /” It is this tension between the familiar and the feeling of alienation that underscore many of the poems in this collection.    

Walker’s use of sound and the vernacular in his poems harkens to the Blues rifts and slang of Langston Hughes, but with a decidedly more contemporary cadence.  In the opening of the poem “Million Man March,” Walker uses these poetic devices to not only capture the moment, but to render a mindset: “a sea / an ocean / a flood of tears / and hugs / daps and slaps / nappy male love / one million caps / and crowns and / burnt brass faces /” These devices, and the poems themselves, demand to be read aloud so that their full context and power may resonate with the reader. 

Walker moves easily from one locale to another, his lines equally comfortable in the pew of a Southern Baptist church in the poem “Fireproof,” or the streets of Boston in “Taking the Stares.”  This connection with place, which at times is actually a disconnection with place, has succeeded in not only establishing this poet’s voice, but in allowing the rest of the south a glimpse into a place that is at one time a world all its own, as well as perhaps being the most integral aspect to understanding where we all come from as southerners, and more importantly where we are going.             

        

William Ashley Johnson
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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