Monday, February 11, 2008

Born of a Woman: New and Selected Poems

At this year’s African American Read-In, local poet Tyehimba Jess rocked the crowd with his fantastic reading of several contemporary poets, including Etheridge Knight. It sent me searching for the library’s copy of Knight’s Born of A Woman: New and Selected Poems.

Etheridge Knight, a poet whose work is linked with the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s, first began writing poetry as an inmate at the Indiana State Prison. His poems capture the harsh realities of drug addiction, desperation and violence, and the realities of a life shaped by racism. But there’s piercing tenderness as well. Jess read from “The Idea of Ancestry,” a poem told in the voice of a prison inmate: “Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grandfathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.…I am all of them, they are all of me: they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.”

Knight’s poems are explosive snapshots of hard living, but catch the humor too, and his refusal to despair in the face of it all…

No comments: