19 April 2007

Feeling fucked up, a poem by Etheridge Knight

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"[Etheridge] Knight began writing poetry while he was in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for robbery. He was twenty-nine years old when he was sent to prison. His poetry grew out of the African- American tradition called "toasts"--long, recited poems that describe street life, usually in rhyming couplets.

In an interview for the Colorado Review in 1987, Knight described his literary birth. "I first began to define myself as a poet in prison. Guys in the joint were my first primary audience. I was sending poems to guys in the joint before I started sending them anyplace else. If you can play a guitar or paint or say poems, you have an audience. And you get affirmed.

I got a lot of support. Guys thought I functioned like a village scribe. On weekends, they would come to me and bring their letters, and I was supposed to be a poet so they'd have me write letters to their wives and sweethearts. You got to do a lot of relating if you're going to do that right. You've got to listen. You've got to hear their story."

Mr. Knight was born on 19 April 1931, in Corinth, Mississippi, and died of lung cancer on 10 March 1991, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Happy birthday to him.

View a webcast of Etheridge:

Some gems by Etheridge:
"He sees through stone
he has the secret
eyes this old black one"

"Each Fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of Mississippi send out their electric
messages, galvanizing my genes."

"Convicts rest
Like lizards on rocks."

"Love is a rock against the wind. Not soft like silk and lace."

He sees through stone

He sees through stone
he has the secret
eyes this old black one
who under prison skies
sits pressed by the sun
against the western wall
his pipe between purple gums

the years fall
like overripe plums
bursting red flesh
on the dark earth

his time is not my time
but I have known him
in a time gone

he led me trembling cold
into the dark forest
taught me the secret rites
to make it with a woman
to be true to my brothers
to make my spear drink
the blood of my enemies

now black cats circle him
flash white teeth
snarl at the air
mashing green grass beneath
shining muscles

ears peeling his words
he smiles
he knows
the hunt the enemy
he has the secret eyes
he sees through stone
© Etheridge Knight

Feeling fucked up

Lord she's gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs--

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all I want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing
© Etheridge Knight
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