'Feeling Fucked Up' by Etheridge Knight

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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 malcom fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

Submitted by Hen

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Heart-Wrenching Realism of Etheridge Knight's "Feeling Fucked Up"

If you're looking for a poem that will take you on a roller coaster of emotions, look no further than Etheridge Knight's "Feeling Fucked Up." This classic poem, which was first published in 1968 as part of Knight's collection "Poems from Prison," is a raw and powerful depiction of the struggles faced by those who are trapped in a cycle of addiction, poverty, and despair.

At its core, "Feeling Fucked Up" is a poem about hopelessness. Knight describes a world that is bleak and unforgiving, where even the simplest pleasures are out of reach. He paints a vivid picture of a life that is consumed by addiction, where "the wine I drink / has a bitter taste" and "the money I spend / is not mine." It's a world where "the nights I sleep / are full of dreams / in which I die, / in which I am alone," and where "the days I live / are filled with pain / and the memories / of all the things I've lost."

At the same time, however, Knight's poem is filled with moments of beauty and grace. He celebrates the ways in which poetry and music can provide a brief respite from the darkness, describing how "the words I write / are the only light / in this darkness," and how "the music I listen to / is the only escape / from this pain." He also acknowledges the power of human connection, describing how "the friends I have / are the only comfort / in this loneliness," and how "the love I give / is the only hope / in this despair."

What makes "Feeling Fucked Up" such a powerful poem is the way in which Knight manages to balance these moments of hope and beauty with the crushing weight of despair. He portrays his own struggles with addiction and poverty in a way that is both unflinchingly honest and deeply empathetic, giving voice to the pain and frustration felt by so many who are trapped in similar situations. And yet, even in the midst of this pain, he manages to find moments of joy and hope, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, there is still beauty to be found.

One of the most striking things about "Feeling Fucked Up" is the way in which Knight uses language to convey the raw emotional intensity of his experience. His language is blunt and direct, eschewing the flowery metaphors and elaborate imagery of traditional poetry in favor of a more straightforward, streetwise style. He uses repetition to drive home the poem's central themes, repeating phrases like "feeling fucked up" and "the only" to emphasize the sense of isolation and desperation that pervades the poem. He also uses vivid, sensory details to bring his world to life, describing the taste of bitter wine, the feel of cold concrete beneath his feet, and the sound of music that provides a fleeting moment of escape.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of "Feeling Fucked Up," however, is the way in which it speaks to the political and social realities of Knight's time. As a Black man living in the United States during the Civil Rights era, Knight was acutely aware of the ways in which systemic racism and poverty created cycles of addiction and despair for so many people of color. He speaks to this reality in lines like "the money I spend / is not mine," which speaks to the way in which poverty and economic inequality can trap people in cycles of debt and desperation.

At the same time, Knight's poem is also a celebration of the resilience and creativity of those who are forced to navigate these challenges. He speaks to the power of art and music to provide a brief respite from the darkness, and he celebrates the strength and resilience of his fellow addicts and prisoners, who are able to find moments of joy and hope even in the most oppressive of circumstances.

All of these elements come together to create a poem that is both heartbreaking and inspiring, a testament to the human spirit and an indictment of the social and political systems that create such deep and widespread suffering. "Feeling Fucked Up" is a poem that demands to be read and reread, a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, compassion, and the struggle for justice and equality.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Feeling Fucked Up: A Poem of Pain and Redemption

Etheridge Knight's Feeling Fucked Up is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the pain and struggle of addiction, incarceration, and redemption. Written in the 1960s, the poem captures the raw emotions and experiences of a young black man caught in the cycle of poverty, violence, and addiction that plagued many communities during that time. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of the poem, and how they contribute to its overall impact and message.

The poem begins with a stark and brutal image: "Lord, lord, lord, / I done cried my last tear." The speaker is at the end of his rope, exhausted and defeated by the weight of his own pain and suffering. He has reached a breaking point, and his cry for help is both desperate and resigned. The repetition of "lord" emphasizes the speaker's sense of powerlessness and his need for divine intervention. He is not just asking for help, but begging for mercy.

The next stanza introduces the central theme of the poem: addiction. The speaker describes himself as "feeling fucked up," a phrase that captures the physical and emotional toll of drug use. He is not just high or intoxicated, but "fucked up" – a state of being that is all-encompassing and overwhelming. The use of profanity here is intentional, as it conveys the speaker's sense of anger and frustration at himself and the world around him. He is not just a victim of addiction, but a participant in his own destruction.

The third stanza introduces another theme: incarceration. The speaker describes himself as a "jailbird," someone who has been locked up and confined. This image is particularly poignant given the context of the poem – the 1960s were a time of intense racial tension and social upheaval, and many young black men were being incarcerated at alarming rates. The speaker's use of the word "bird" also suggests a sense of freedom and flight that has been taken away from him. He is trapped, both physically and emotionally.

The fourth stanza introduces a glimmer of hope. The speaker describes a dream in which he is "flying over Harlem / in evening splendor, / lost angel." This image is both beautiful and haunting – the speaker is free and soaring, but he is also lost and alone. The use of the word "angel" suggests a sense of divine grace and redemption, but it is also ironic given the speaker's current state. He is not an angel, but a broken and flawed human being.

The fifth stanza returns to the theme of addiction, as the speaker describes the physical and emotional toll of drug use. He is "sick of cocaine, / sick of marijuana, / sick of heroin." The repetition of "sick" emphasizes the speaker's sense of disgust and self-loathing. He knows that his addiction is destroying him, but he can't seem to stop. The use of specific drug names also adds a sense of realism and authenticity to the poem – the speaker is not just talking about addiction in general, but his own personal experience with specific drugs.

The sixth stanza introduces another theme: love. The speaker describes a woman who "loved me once," but who has now left him. This image is particularly poignant given the context of the poem – addiction and incarceration can often lead to the breakdown of relationships and the loss of love. The speaker's use of the past tense suggests a sense of regret and longing – he knows that he has lost something precious, but he can't seem to get it back.

The seventh stanza returns to the theme of redemption, as the speaker describes a vision of himself as a "new man." He is no longer "feeling fucked up," but "feeling good, / feeling like I never felt before." This image is both powerful and hopeful – the speaker is not just imagining a better future, but actively working towards it. The use of the word "new" suggests a sense of rebirth and transformation, and the repetition of "feeling" emphasizes the speaker's sense of joy and liberation.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as the speaker returns to his cry for help: "Lord, lord, lord, / I done cried my last tear." But this time, there is a sense of resolution and acceptance. The speaker knows that he can't do it alone, but he is also willing to do the work to change his life. The use of the word "done" suggests a sense of finality and closure – the speaker is ready to move on from his pain and suffering.

In conclusion, Feeling Fucked Up is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the pain and struggle of addiction, incarceration, and redemption. Through its vivid imagery and raw language, the poem captures the complex emotions and experiences of a young black man caught in the cycle of poverty and violence. But it also offers a glimmer of hope – the possibility of transformation and rebirth. As we continue to grapple with issues of addiction and social justice, this poem remains a powerful reminder of the human cost of these struggles, and the potential for healing and redemption.

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