Etheridge Knight


On April 19, 1931, Etheridge Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi. Although he dropped out of school at age sixteen (as soon as he was old enough to join the army), his education in the uses and joys of language continued as he explored the world of juke joints, pool halls, and underground poker games. He began to master the art of the toast, a form of long, improvised, humorous poetry that dates back to the 19th century and has its roots in African storytelling. From 1947 to 1951, Knight served in the U.S. Army in Korea and returned with a shrapnel wound that caused him to fall deeper into a drug addiction that had begun during his service. In 1960, he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to eight years in the Indiana State Prison. During this time he began writing poetry, and he corresponded with and received visits from such established African American literary figures as Dudley Randall and Gwendolyn Brooks. Dudley Randall's Broadside Press published Poems from Prison (1968), Knight's first book, one year before he was released from prison. The book was a success, and Knight soon joined such poets as Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez (to whom he was once married) in what came to be called the Black Arts Movement. This movement, according to the poet and critic Larry Neal, was "radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America." Knight embraced these ideals in his own work and in 1970 edited a collection entitled Black Voices From Prison. Knight's books and oral performances drew both popular and critical acclaim, and he received honors from such institutions as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. In 1990 he earned a bachelor's degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. Etheridge Knight died in 1991. Source



Excerpt From Belly Song


And I  and I/ must admit

that the sea in you 

            has sung/ to the sea/ in me

and I               and I/ must admit

that the sea in me

         has fallen/ in love

         with the sea in you

because you have made something 

out of the sea

         that nearly swallowed you


And this poem

This poem

This poem/ I give / to you.

This poem is a song/I sing/I sing/ to you

from the bottom

        of the sea

                in my belly


This poem/is a song/ about FEELINGS

about the Bone of  feeling

about the Stone of feeling

         And the Feather of feeling



This poem

This poem

This poem/ is /

a death / chant

and a prayer for the dead:

              for the young Jackie Robinson.

a moving Blk/warrior who walked

among us

            with a wide/ stride and heavy heels

moving                moving             moving

thru the blood and mud and shit of Vietnam


through the blood and mud and dope of America

             for Jackie/ who was/


a song

and a stone

and a Feather of feeling

             now dead

and/ gone/in the month of love


This poem

this poem /is / a silver feather

and the sun-gold/ glinting/ green hills breathing

river flowing...



This poem

This poem

This poem/ is for ME- for me

and the days/ that lay/ in the back/ of my mind

when the sea/ rose up/

           to swallow me

and the streets I walked

      were lonely streets

      were stone / cold streets


This poem

this poem

This poem /is / for me

           and my woman

           and the yesterdays

when she opened

        to me like a flower

        But I fell on her

        like a stone

I fell on her like a stone...



And now- in my 40th year

          I have come here

to this House of Feelings

to this Singing  Sea

and I    and I / must admit

that the sea in me

          has fallen / in love

with the sea in you

because the sea 

that now sings/ in you

            is the same sea

that nearly swallowed you - 

             and me too.





Literary Movements:

Black Arts Movement

Anthology Years:



Love & Relationships

Literary Devices:


a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences


the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses


words or phrases repeated one after another in quick succession


a recurrence of the same word or phrase two or more times