Alice Walker’s poem “Janie Crawford”

In honor of Women’s History Month, which begins Thurs Mar 1, I am posting Alice Walker’s poem “Janie Crawford” which has always been one of my favorite poems.


Janie Crawford


i love the way Janie Crawford


left her husbands   the one who wanted

to change her into a mule

and the other who tried to interest her

in being a queen

a woman unless she submits is neither a mule

nor a queen

though like a mule she may suffer

and like a queen pace

the floor


Alice Walker


A key element that I look for in any poetry – narrative or otherwise – is accessibility. This does not mean that the best poetry is that which is immediately transparent in all areas, but that the best poetry (to me) is that which offers some kind of immediate access; something – whether beautiful sound, captivating imagery or clear, incisive meaning – that allows me to enter into at least the foyer of the poem’s dwelling or structure. Just as not all buildings are designed and built in exactly the same way, neither are all poems. Because not all poems are built alike, this level of accessibility will vary greatly from poem to poem. Some poems, such as those of Eliot, Bishop, or Moore, are large complex structures – mansions, if you will – containing a seemingly unlimited number of rooms and floors and nooks and crannies. The first time I heard T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” read aloud (by one of my high school English teachers) I immediately felt the greatness of the poem, felt as if I had entered into the foyer of a large and masterly-built structure. I did not understand the poem – i.e., I would not have been able to explain what the poem meant or was about – but I was enough taken – or taken in – by the poem that I knew I wanted to remain inside it in the hopes of someday touring and understanding the poem in its entirety.

If, in a “mansion” poem, I am moved to look “inward” – to stay inside the poem in order to learn more about the inner workings of the poem, the poem’s architecture in all its rich complexity – then, in a “cottage” poem, I am drawn outward because of the poem’s plainness (with respect to syntax and diction) and immediate accessibility of meaning. When I read “Janie Crawford,” I am struck both by the plain inward “structure” of the poem but also by the outward view that this poem provides me as a reader – a magnificent view into the world of the poem. Not that there is anything magnificent about the subjugation of women but that there is something magnificent (to me) about being able to see so immediately into this world as it is represented in the poem. Of course, just because the language and syntax are plain, doesn’t mean there aren’t structural elements – or furnishings – which I can admire. The space after the first line of the poem is a clever and effective way of setting up readers for something positive – we are given space here to wander off in one direction only to be pulled back immediately with the unexpectedness of the second line. The line breaks also are effective and add interesting meaning to the poem, as with the next line in which the words “the one who wanted” are placed in such a way as to suggest “the one who lacked” in addition to the straight-forward meaning of the one who desired.


Submitted by Lisa Dordal