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by Louise Robertson

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What poetic form could be so open and yet directed as the blues poem?

You’re supposed to:

1. Make a statement in the first line.
2. Vary that statement in the second line
3. And say something twisted about it in the third.

And you’re supposed to do it while talking about struggle, despair, and sex. Lanston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson are known for the form, but even WH Auden, Billy Collins and Sherman Alexie have written them.

Everyone knows the blues. And everyone should be able to get with this especially American form. See the book Blues Poems by Kevin Young for more.

Today’s example, by Etheridge Knight (1931-1991), was chosen because of the second stanza’s deconstruction of the paradigms of artistic inspriation and revolu — fuck, I just like the hell out of it, that’s all. This poem (“Feeling Fucked Up”) and “The Idea of Ancestry” are two poems you have to read by this poet. O, and “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” — you should look that one up too. Here’s the blues poem example.

Feeling Fucked Up
by Etheridge Knight

Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare
bright bone white crystal sand glistens
dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs—

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

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