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On "Haiku One"

Patricia Alveda Liggins Hill

In search for this artistic mode, Knight often explored another written form—haiku. Gwendolyn Brooks who, like Dudley Randall, advised Knight while he was in prison, suggested that he experiment with haiku. Indeed, she felt that much of his poetry was too wordy. Knight recalls that "as a beginner poet, I was saying things in ten sentences that I could have said in two." Brooks surmised that haiku would help the poet learn "how to paint pictures with words."

As a result, Knight paints vivid and descriptive images in several of his haikus. In three of them, he sketches striking images of the oppressive conditions of imprisonment. In Haiku One, for example, he creates the atmosphere of sterility and oppression by using a Poundian method of juxtaposing images: . . .

Knight juxtaposes the image of the guard tower with the lizard- like convicts. Images such as "lizards" and "rocks" create an atmosphere of dryness and sterility. The concept of oppression is reinforced with the image of the "guard tower" which is situated in the East but, which "glints in the sunset" (the sun sets in the West). Thus, the atmosphere of oppression is all encompassing. Irony, as well, penetrates the poem. The tower does not "guard" (protect) the convicts but, instead, traps them. The convicts "rest," but are unprotected like "lizards on rocks." In addition, Knight plays on the word "rocks." On one level, the "rocks" are the stones on which the lizards are situated; on another level, the term means imprisonment—a common word for prison is "the rock."

from "The New Black Aesthetic as a Counterpoetics" The Poetry of Etheridge Knight. Diss., Stanford University, 1977.

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