Helen Vendler: On "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane"
In a grand poem already anthologized by Dudley Randall in his excellent collection, The Black Poets (1971), Knight tells of his family ("The Idea of Ancestry"): "Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black / faces. . . . / They stare / across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know--mine." Another poem immortalizes a moment of prison despair; "Hard Rock Returns to Prison From the Hospital for the Criminal Insane":
Hard Rock was "known not to take no shit
From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumped ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair.
Hard Rock goes under, lobotomized, as the poem knows he will, but the lumps and the welts stay in the poem unrepaired and unrepentant. Knight's other side voices a longing no less deep than the yearning of the spirituals it remembers in its wish for Mississippi.
One day we shall all go back--
we shall surely all go back (down home. . .
and the shame will leave our children's eyes (down home ...
|Title||Helen Vendler: On "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Helen Vendler||Criticism Target||Etheridge Knight|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||09 Jun 2020|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets|
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