Alice Walker Poems That Everyone Needs to Read

"Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise."

three books of alice walker poems

Before she became the famous author of The Color Purple, which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Alice Walker was a poet. Since 1968, she has regularly been publishing books of poetry that are, in a word, striking. Much like her prose, Alice Walker’s poetry is direct and accessible, yet it packs an incredible amount of emotion and passion.

Alice Walker has published 9 volumes of poems, including Once (1968); Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973); Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning (1979); Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1985); Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems (1991); Absolute Trust in the Goodness of Earth (2003); A Poem Traveled Down My Arm (2003); Hard Times Require Furious Dancing (2010); The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (2013); and Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart (2018).

Keep reading to discover a few of our favorite Alice Walker poems.



By Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s first book of poetry, Once, was published in 1968. Comprised of poems written while she was still a student at Sarah Lawrence and during her first visit to Africa, Once is an enduring, witty snapshot of a young Alice Walker’s mind.

the kiss, an alice walker poem


i was kissed once

by a beautiful man

all blond and


riding through bratislava

on a motor bike

screeching “don’t yew let me fall off heah naow!”

the funny part was

he spoke english

and setting me gallantly

on my feet

kissed me for

not anyhow looking

like aunt jemima.

Revolutionary Petunias

Revolutionary Petunias

By Alice Walker

A National Book Award finalist, these verses published in 1976 are Alice Walker’s most visceral reactions to the Civil Rights movement, a period that she herself influenced through words and advocacy.

expect nothing, an alice walker poem

Expect Nothing

Expect nothing. Live frugally

On surprise.

Become a stranger

To need of pity

Or, if compassion be freely

Given out

Take only enough

Stop short of urge to plead

Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger

Than your own small heart

Or greater than a star;

Tame wild disappointment

With caress unmoved and cold

Make of it a parka

For your soul.

Discover the reason why

So tiny human midget

Exists at all

So scared unwise

But expect nothing. Live frugally

On surprise.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful

By Alice Walker

The title of this collection comes from a Native American shaman who, reflecting on the terrible problems brought by white colonizers, nearly forgave them all because with the settlers came horses to the North American Plains. “This book has two fine strengths—a music that comes along sometimes [and] Walker’s own tragicomic gifts” (The New York Times Book Review).

listen, an alice walker poem



I never dreamed

I would learn to love you so.

You are as flawed

as my vision

As short tempered

as my breath.

Every time you say

you love me

I look for shelter.

But these matters are small.

Lying entranced

by your troubled life

within as without your arms

I am once again


Studying a way

that is not mine.

Proof of evolution’s


You would choose

not to come back again,

you say.

Except perhaps

as rock or tree.

But listen, love. Though human,

that is what you are


to this student, absorbed.

Human tree and rock already,

to me.

taking the arrow out of the heart, a book of alice walker poems

Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart

By Alice Walker

In the introduction of her most recent book of poetry, Alice Walker writes that “no one escapes a time in life when the arrow of sorrow, of anger, of despair pierces the heart.” In this collection, Alice Walker’s poems are bilingual—each is printed in both English and Spanish.

wherever you are grieving, an alice walker poem

Wherever You Are Grieving

It does not matter to me:

wherever you are grieving

whether Paris, Damascus, Jerusalem, Bamako,

Mexico or Beirut or New York City

my heart, too, is bruised

and dragging.

There used to be such a thing

as melodrama

when feeling could be made up,

but now there is bare pain

and sorrow,

a sense of endlessly missed


to smile and embrace

“The other.”

We mourn the loss

of goodness

that was so divinely




the blessings of maturity

and of old age.

All sacrificed now

almost predictably

to the same Greed

our histories

—every one of them—

could have warned us against

if only we knew them.