A Poem Traveled Down My Arm

Poems and Drawings

Ebook
On sale Dec 18, 2007 | 176 Pages | 978-0-307-43044-1
In this illuminating book, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist and acclaimed poet Alice Walker reveals her remarkable philosophy of life. Curiously, this labor of love started with the author’s signature: Faced with the daunting task of providing autographs for multiple copies of one of her poetry collections, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth, Walker turned an act of repetition into an act of inspiration. For each autograph became something more than a name: a thoughtful reflection, an impromptu sketch, a heartfelt poem. The result is this spontaneous burst of the unexpected. A Poem Traveled Down My Arm is a lovely collection of insights and drawings—by turns charming and humorous, provocative and profound—that represent the wisdom of one of today’s most beloved writers.

The essence of Walker’s independent spirit emanates from words and images that are simple but deep in meaning. An empowering approach to life...the inspiration to live completely in the moment...the chance to nurture one’s creativity and peace of mind—all these beautiful elements are evoked by this unusual and original book.
THIS IS A STRANGE BOOK
 
This is a strange little book. It is like a plant in one’s garden whose seed was blown in by the wind.
 
The story of A Poem Traveled Down My Arm is this: After giving up writing altogether—after more than thirty years of writing, I thought it was time— I had written a book of poems, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth, while on retreat in Mexico. My editor asked me to pre-autograph “tip-in sheets” for the new volume, and sent me five hundred. Signing these sheets of paper, which would later be “tipped” into the book and bound, would save me time later on autographing copies of the book at bookstores; readers, I think, like to buy books that are autographed. So I sat down near a sunny window, and between cooking and gardening and traveling and so on, I signed all five hundred sheets. By now, my autograph has become a scrawl, illegible to anyone but myself, and so I’ve begun to think of it not as words, but as a design. I sent the signed sheets off. A few days or weeks later, I was asked to autograph another thousand. I came face-to-face with how boring it is to write one’s own name. Unlike many people who are asked for autographs and who willingly give them no matter what else they might be doing, I will often refuse. Gently and graciously, usually. Or I will explain: No, I am on my way to the dentist, a funeral, grocery shopping, this is not a good time. By now I must have written my name a million times.
 
As I began signing sheets of the quite high stack of blank paper, my pen joined me in boredom at writing my name. It began to draw things instead. I was delighted. There was an elephant! A giraffe! A sun! A moon! Hair!
 
And at the same time, as if completely over the mundane task of writing my name, we, my pen and I, began to write poems.
 
I was working in the dining room and keeping an ear open to things cooking on the stove in the kitchen. Sometimes I would rush to stir the soup, and a poem would bubble up so quickly I had to forget the soup and rush back to write the poem. For a while I simply signed the drawings and left them in the stack. I thought: How sweet to offer this signed drawing to the person who buys this book, rather than a scrawled signature. But the poems and drawings started to form something that I thought I might like to experience myself, so I pulled them out of the stack.
 
I saw that the poems spoke a different poem-language than I usually use, which meant I was somewhere, within myself, new. The drawings reflected the fact that I don’t know how to draw, and yet, like folk art all over the world, they had Life. Stuffing them under a cushion because they seemed awkward wouldn’t work, because they did have this life; they would peek out.
 
And that, dear reader, is the story. Not all of it, of course. Because. It is really a story about exhaustion. About deciding to quit. About attempting to give up what it is not in one’s power to give up: one’s connection to the Source. Being taught this lesson. Ultimately it is a story about Creativity, the force that surges and ebbs in all of us, and links us to the Divine.
 
In A Poem Traveled Down My Arm there is a poem that goes like this:
 
What hair
we here!
 
Mandela
Douglass
Einstein
 
Between assassination
suicide
living
happily.
 
On the page following this poem there is a drawing of their hair. Mandela’s is a mandala of curled and tightly spiraled rosettes, all happy to grow over and around one another. Frederick Douglass’s hair, the mane of a man who would not be a slave and definitely would not be badly dressed once he was free, is an attitudinal, kinky fluff that hangs to his neck. It was white as snow during much of his life, and must have lit up every room he entered, like a moon. Einstein’s mind-blown locks speak to the naturalness that true creativity demands. He had seen where we’re headed: The Third World War may be fought with bombs, he declared, but the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones. Or words to that effect. Hair care was the least of it. And so his hair defines the expression “every which a way.”
 
Mandela a “terrorist,” Mandela with a price on his head, or on any piece of him, in fact; Mandela in prison for twenty-seven years; Mandela with a free heart. Douglass the same: enslavement, refusal of enslavement, flight, resistance, rebellion. Free heart. Einstein different, but similar: He saw humanity’s enslavement to its fear of itself, where such fear would lead. Still he enjoyed some very good days.
 
And so it can be with us. And so says the poem:
 
Between assassination
suicide
living
happily.
 
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her novel The Color Purple. Her other novels include By the Light of My Father’s Smile and Possessing the Secret of Joy. She is also the author of three collections of short stories, three collections of essays, seven volumes of poetry, and several children’s books. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California. View titles by Alice Walker

About

In this illuminating book, Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist and acclaimed poet Alice Walker reveals her remarkable philosophy of life. Curiously, this labor of love started with the author’s signature: Faced with the daunting task of providing autographs for multiple copies of one of her poetry collections, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth, Walker turned an act of repetition into an act of inspiration. For each autograph became something more than a name: a thoughtful reflection, an impromptu sketch, a heartfelt poem. The result is this spontaneous burst of the unexpected. A Poem Traveled Down My Arm is a lovely collection of insights and drawings—by turns charming and humorous, provocative and profound—that represent the wisdom of one of today’s most beloved writers.

The essence of Walker’s independent spirit emanates from words and images that are simple but deep in meaning. An empowering approach to life...the inspiration to live completely in the moment...the chance to nurture one’s creativity and peace of mind—all these beautiful elements are evoked by this unusual and original book.

Excerpt

THIS IS A STRANGE BOOK
 
This is a strange little book. It is like a plant in one’s garden whose seed was blown in by the wind.
 
The story of A Poem Traveled Down My Arm is this: After giving up writing altogether—after more than thirty years of writing, I thought it was time— I had written a book of poems, Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth, while on retreat in Mexico. My editor asked me to pre-autograph “tip-in sheets” for the new volume, and sent me five hundred. Signing these sheets of paper, which would later be “tipped” into the book and bound, would save me time later on autographing copies of the book at bookstores; readers, I think, like to buy books that are autographed. So I sat down near a sunny window, and between cooking and gardening and traveling and so on, I signed all five hundred sheets. By now, my autograph has become a scrawl, illegible to anyone but myself, and so I’ve begun to think of it not as words, but as a design. I sent the signed sheets off. A few days or weeks later, I was asked to autograph another thousand. I came face-to-face with how boring it is to write one’s own name. Unlike many people who are asked for autographs and who willingly give them no matter what else they might be doing, I will often refuse. Gently and graciously, usually. Or I will explain: No, I am on my way to the dentist, a funeral, grocery shopping, this is not a good time. By now I must have written my name a million times.
 
As I began signing sheets of the quite high stack of blank paper, my pen joined me in boredom at writing my name. It began to draw things instead. I was delighted. There was an elephant! A giraffe! A sun! A moon! Hair!
 
And at the same time, as if completely over the mundane task of writing my name, we, my pen and I, began to write poems.
 
I was working in the dining room and keeping an ear open to things cooking on the stove in the kitchen. Sometimes I would rush to stir the soup, and a poem would bubble up so quickly I had to forget the soup and rush back to write the poem. For a while I simply signed the drawings and left them in the stack. I thought: How sweet to offer this signed drawing to the person who buys this book, rather than a scrawled signature. But the poems and drawings started to form something that I thought I might like to experience myself, so I pulled them out of the stack.
 
I saw that the poems spoke a different poem-language than I usually use, which meant I was somewhere, within myself, new. The drawings reflected the fact that I don’t know how to draw, and yet, like folk art all over the world, they had Life. Stuffing them under a cushion because they seemed awkward wouldn’t work, because they did have this life; they would peek out.
 
And that, dear reader, is the story. Not all of it, of course. Because. It is really a story about exhaustion. About deciding to quit. About attempting to give up what it is not in one’s power to give up: one’s connection to the Source. Being taught this lesson. Ultimately it is a story about Creativity, the force that surges and ebbs in all of us, and links us to the Divine.
 
In A Poem Traveled Down My Arm there is a poem that goes like this:
 
What hair
we here!
 
Mandela
Douglass
Einstein
 
Between assassination
suicide
living
happily.
 
On the page following this poem there is a drawing of their hair. Mandela’s is a mandala of curled and tightly spiraled rosettes, all happy to grow over and around one another. Frederick Douglass’s hair, the mane of a man who would not be a slave and definitely would not be badly dressed once he was free, is an attitudinal, kinky fluff that hangs to his neck. It was white as snow during much of his life, and must have lit up every room he entered, like a moon. Einstein’s mind-blown locks speak to the naturalness that true creativity demands. He had seen where we’re headed: The Third World War may be fought with bombs, he declared, but the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones. Or words to that effect. Hair care was the least of it. And so his hair defines the expression “every which a way.”
 
Mandela a “terrorist,” Mandela with a price on his head, or on any piece of him, in fact; Mandela in prison for twenty-seven years; Mandela with a free heart. Douglass the same: enslavement, refusal of enslavement, flight, resistance, rebellion. Free heart. Einstein different, but similar: He saw humanity’s enslavement to its fear of itself, where such fear would lead. Still he enjoyed some very good days.
 
And so it can be with us. And so says the poem:
 
Between assassination
suicide
living
happily.
 

Author

Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her novel The Color Purple. Her other novels include By the Light of My Father’s Smile and Possessing the Secret of Joy. She is also the author of three collections of short stories, three collections of essays, seven volumes of poetry, and several children’s books. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California. View titles by Alice Walker

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