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Author Alice Walker talks about her latest book of poetry, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart

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Simon and Schuster
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The awarding winning author of The Color Purple, was in Traverse City Monday as part of the National Writers Series.

Alice Walker sat down with Ben Thorp to talk about her latest book of poetry, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart.

Ben: In the introduction to Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart you talk about the work of overcoming sorrow, anger, and despair. Do you see this book of poetry as almost a how-to guide in the work of overcoming this kind of pain?

Walker: Not exactly. Although I think the teaching about how to take the Arrow Out of Your Heart rather than yelling at the archer is a thought that people could sit with. And could be really helpful.

Ben: The poetry to me feels like it grapples with the universality of suffering. You write about Palestine, you write about police violence, genocide in Rwanda, the war in Iraq. Can you talk about these connections and why they were important to draw?

Walker: Right, because they are all arrows in the heart, and especially in my heart. Palestine has been in my consciousness and my heart for decades. I’ve been to Gaza actually there once, and then tried again but was turned back on a flotilla. It’s a humanitarian crisis that the world has to do something about.

The police brutality is also incredibly challenging to the spirit because it seems like such a repeat of so much of the history in this country. When you have repeats like this of violence and racism it just shows you that a country can’t grow and the people can’t grow and it’s so disappointing and it’s so sorrowful. Because they don’t have to stay stuck. People don’t have to stay stuck. I really like, for instance, all the young people who are not staying stuck. But yeah these are all massive arrows.

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Ben: I guess, do you feel like, you’re talking about being stuck as a country, do you feel like the way we grapple with that arrow in the heart can be a part of moving on or moving forward or moving past some of those pains?

Walker: Exactly. Because the idea there is until you move the arrow out of your heart, and if you just have the arrow in your heart and spend your time yelling at the archer, you don’t do anything but get sick. The wound festers and often you die.

Ben: I want to talk about and maybe get you to read "Making Frittatas" which is one of my favorite poems.

Walker: Oh good. Mine too. Making Frittatas. This is for my daughter really because we were apart for ten years.

Ten years is a long time

and I have missed you.

I thought of this

this morning as I commenced making

a splendid (it turned out) frittata.

You taught me how to do this.  After ten years during

which I assumed you did not cook – time stops

when we are absent -

you stood in my kitchen and casually,

speaking of something trivial,

made the most mouthwatering

frittata.  It did not stick, it did not burn,

it was not soggy on top

it was good!

During those same ten years

I tried to make frittatas but feared they’d never cook

all the way through; all the way to the top.

But no, watching you closely, I saw

when yours threatened to remain a bit mushy

you calmly transferred it to the oven,

which I thought would surely burn it.

But – not!

Out it came the perfect consistency.

Delicious!

I was in awe.

And so, today, I think: it is all the simple

times of sharing simple things

that I have missed. The mutual teaching and learning

that is, or should be, a daughter’s and a mother’s right.

Ben: Can you talk about - what was so interesting about this poem was its place within the book. So many of these are meditations on pain, on suffering. That poem follows a poem on Eric Garner. Can you talk about this moment, this space, for a poem like this in a book that is so much about meditations on pain?

Walker: Well this was very painful, can you imagine? Do you have children?

Ben: I do not.

Walker: Well your mother had children. Imagine if you missed ten years of life with your mother. That you were estranged. We were estranged and it was an arrow in the heart just like everything else.

Ben: I guess I read it wrong. It felt like there was something joyful about it I guess, the making of the Frittata and it came out perfect.

Walker: Well it is joyful because this is after ten years and things have gotten better. There is learning something from each other. Which is really almost the height of togetherness when you learn something from each other.

Ben: Alice Walker thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

Walker: You’re welcome.