SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Alice Walker has a new collection of poems, nearly 70, about issues of the world and in her own backyard. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author of "The Color Purple," "The Temple Of My Familiar" and many other beloved works joins us now from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. Her book of poems is "Taking The Arrow Out Of The Heart."
Ms. Walker, thanks so much for being with us.
ALICE WALKER: I'm very happy to be here with you. I've heard wonderful things about you, by the way.
SIMON: Well, we've heard wonderful things about you, of course. I'd like to begin with - if you could read us a section of your poem about your beloved Oakland called "Loving Oakland."
(Reading) If gentrifiers do not despoil it, which means getting rid of poor and black and people of color people, Oakland can be what it has been for a long time, an urban paradise. It is a place where the young blond woman crossing the street in front of your car would look like a threat to the neighborhood, except she's frowning over some deep issue in her inner life and wearing outrageous vivid blue shoes. It is a place where, as you sit on the grass by the lake, a tall black man of a certain age strolls by blowing his saxophone. You smile and bow. He bows back with his horn. His day is mellow. He's in the sun. He has given mellowness and sun free of charge to you.
SIMON: If I might ask you about that first line, if gentrifiers do not despoil it, are you concerned that Oakland might be improved, as they say, at the cost of a lot of people?
WALKER: Yes. In fact, it's happening as we speak. So many huge buildings, apartment buildings, forcing the people out. And so many, now, people living in tents - you know, so many homeless people. There are a lot of brokenhearted souls, you know, in Oakland who've lived there all their lives. I just moved there myself a couple of years ago. But I've known people who've lived there for a long time.
SIMON: Do you wonder what the poem will sound like, say, five years from now?
WALKER: No. (Laughter) I don't. I don't even know if I'll be here five years from now. I'm such a country person. I mean, I actually really live on a farm. But you know, Oakland has a soul as a city. It has a real spirit. And when you lose it, you know, it's major. It's a big deal.
SIMON: Each poem in this collection is translated into Spanish by Manuel Garcia Verdecia on the opposite page. Why was it important to you to have these poems available in Spanish at the same time?
WALKER: I live part of the year in Mexico. I've been living there like that for the last almost 30 years, I think. I'm busy writing in English, so it's been real hard for me to get my Spanish up to speed. And I sometimes am frustrated because I can't really explain to my friends what it is that I do. I just want to be closer to them. And I don't want to always be the one who is - you know, I have something to share, but I can't share it because I can't really speak the language.
I want to get you to read - if I get an opinion - my favorite poem in this collection.
SIMON: "Necks Of Clay."
WALKER: (Reading) Someone said to me - oh, stop that. He has feet of clay. Well, this person's clay went to the neck. Can we listen to imperfect humans? I've always preferred them myself. Does this make us mad? Can we hear our own small voices muffled by the mud of being, pleading for release?
SIMON: I love that poem.
WALKER: Thank you.
SIMON: So let me ask you the question. Can we listen to imperfect humans?
WALKER: I can. That's the only kind there is.
SIMON: (Laughter) That's true.
WALKER: I mean, really. And I think accepting that is taking us a long way forward, you know? OK. You're not perfect, and I'm not either. And you're really not perfect. But what are you trying to tell me? And then maybe we can - you know, we can go somewhere.
SIMON: I love it when you say, I've always preferred them myself.
WALKER: I do. I do. I do. I tell you, it's just so - it's so human to be imperfect.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, it's all we're left with, isn't it? That's...
WALKER: Oh, totally.
WALKER: Yeah. But it can also be worked with. And you know - I mean, I just think it's great for us to acknowledge that people are not finished. We're not finished.
SIMON: Alice Walker - her new book of poems, "Taking The Arrow Out Of The Heart."
Thanks so much for being with us.
WALKER: Thank you so much.
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