What does it Mean to Belong?

Knight seems to protest his ancestry in an almost masochistic, spiteful manner. He conveys a strong feeling of isolation and detachment from his large family; despite sharing a name with “1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews, and 1 uncle,” he identifies himself as an outsider. In his use of strong descriptive language, Knight is able to convey a powerful response from his audience.

“They are all of me,” “I am me, they are thee,” Knight writes. He both recognizes the similarities he and his family share, and distances from them simultaneously. This is a powerful protest against what it means to belong to a family, and perhaps this is due to a deep feeling of abandonment and loneliness while in prison.

Smith approaches the protest of ancestry in a similar manner, with her use of visceral imagery (“mangled hand,” “filled with my own spit.”) Most powerfully is her use of enjambment to emphasize the skinhead’s affiliation with America; this protests what it is to be a “pure” American, while also bringing to question what it means to have pride in one’ country. Smith protests the violent nature of American culture, in the wide-spread anti-faggot/anti-nigger sentiment. Smith seems to protest the long-standing hatred Americans have for all that is “alien,” which has been perpetuated by people not unlike Smith’s skinhead persona.


  1. Why does Knight separate his poem with numbers?
  2. What is it that the flies “know” in Smith’s “Buried”?
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5 Responses to What does it Mean to Belong?

  1. Mika Katz says:

    When initially looking at the format of the poem, I noticed that is it split into two parts. In the first line of the poem the speaker states, “Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black faces” (1). Of the speakers experience in prison he remembers looking at these photos and connecting with these family members, almost as if they are alive and are able to talk to him. The number itself is important because it is huge number that represents not only his family but pieces of him. “They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know their dark eyes, they know mine” (5-7). He is identifying with these photos, even sharing his own identity with them, and perhaps taking on their identity. I believe that the use of numbers is to place an emphasis on the amount of family members/ancestors he identifies with, even how much of our ancestry flows within us, or that we carry with us. It could be showing quantity of personalities and identities in a more unique way.

  2. Marc says:

    For the structure of Knight’s “The Idea of Ancestry”, I have a similar reasoning as to why it is separated by numbers as Max’s. The main reason for this is to break up the poet’s life into two sections; before he was imprisoned, and life in jail. The first part of the poem is set in the present tense, in a very structured, organized fashion as the protagonist is in jail and his creativity as well as his freedom is limited. This section does not even come across as a stanza at all, rather as a paragraph. In the second part of the poem, the poet looks back on his life and reminds himself of the freedom he once had. This is the reason for his often peculiar sentence structure in the second part of the poem as well as the reason it sounds more poetic.

  3. Bella Rubin says:

    Like Kaylin explains Knight “conveys a strong feeling of isolation and detachment from his large family.” In Knights poem he separates himself from his family saying “they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.” Knight separates this poem to clearly show us how just because someone looks just like their family and is a part of a family, does not mean they are the same like them. In the first part, Part 1 Knight goes into detail about all his family members who he shares genes and names with. In part one you would think Knight and his family are literally one. That’s why Knight separates his poem with numbers to show they are not one family unite. Part 2 explains how they are two completely different people Knight and the rest of his family “I am me, they are thee.”

  4. In Knight’s “Idea of Ancestry” the speaker talks about his family and tells how they are so similar but can also be so different. It seems in a way that he’s lamenting the fact that he is so different from his family. He says, “I am all of them, / they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children / to float in the space between.” He tells how he has such a huge family in such detail and then says how he having no kids is another way in which he doesn’t fit in to his family.

  5. Max Richter says:

    Many of the aspects Kaylin said about “The Idea of Ancestry” I fully agree with. I, too, believe this poem shows the isolation this prisoner feels and how he doesn’t feel connected to his family. An idea that jumped out at me was that the narrator is nervous he will be connected to his uncle, who seems to be a disappointment to the family. The use of Knight separating his poem with numbers shows the life of this man in prison and his life without. The first part is written with structure while the second part is written in more of a sloppy structure. This may convey that his life is more stable in prison, whereas outside of prison, the narrators life was dangerous and harmful.

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