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"Haiku" by Etheridge Knight
In Etheridge Knight's "Haiku," he speaks from the perspective of a black male prisoner looking out his prison window, likening the situations of an incarcerated life to nature, rather than a claustrophobic, solitary existence. Knight paints many vibrant and expressive images, creating an atmosphere of barrenness and tyranny. It is not certain, but the author hints at the narrator being African-American. The speaker makes references to "jazz swing" and talks about writing a blues song. He also makes an obvious attempt at getting our attention by capitalizing the just-approved English slang word "ain't", which was typically considered a southern black saying; he says "Making jazz swing in / Seventeen syllables AIN'T / No square poet's job." Knight composes the images of "rocks" and "lizards"; "rocks" are the stones on which the "lizards", compared to the convicts, "rest". He also speaks of pecan trees, graves and the moon and stars—all evidence that Knight is relating the narrator's situation to nature. The concept of tyranny and oppression is reinforced with the image of the guard tower, which is situated in the East, but glints in the sunset (the sun sets in the West). The guards stand over the convicts showing their dominance and despotism. An all-encompassing atmosphere is strongly prevalent. There's also a presence of irony throughout the poem; the guard tower does not "guard" the prisoners, but traps them, instead. The convicts "rest", but are unprotected like "lizards on rocks." Knight also 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." Though a haiku is usually about nature, Knight forged a new path in the area of haiku writing; there are many different types of haikus: children's, political, football. However, some of these aren't haiku, but are senryuu, a type of verse with the same...
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