Etheridge Knight said it is “a valid ambition to want the words you strung together to live on the lips of ordinary people.” The Symphony poets echo that sentiment with each line they write. The original members included Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson and John Murillo. The collective’s name is a nod to Marley Marl and the Juice Crew’s classic posse cut of the same title, which featured Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Craig G and Masta Ace. For the October, 2013 appearance, Jamaal May replaces Reginald Dwayne Betts in performance, while Betts completes his study for a law degree at Yale University.
These four poets combine their voices into four movements that form one song: a multitudinous story of love, prison, fatherhood and the denizens of cities often absent from American verse. They created their group by conceptualizing and assembling an homage to the work and memory of Etheridge Knight that they titled, “The House that Etheridge Built.” Part lecture, part poetic suite it provided an introduction to the work of Etheridge Knight and to the voices of his literary descendants, all of whom aim to have their words live on the lips of ordinary people. The Symphony has performed multiple times at Park University; at the University of South Carolina; Chicago State University; Yale University and in other venues. While in Kansas City in 2011, they interviewed with Angela Elam for the NPR radio program, “New Letters on the Air.
Jamaal May is a poet, editor, and educator from Detroit, MI where he taught poetry in public schools and worked as a freelance audio engineer and touring performer. His first collection of poems, Hum (Alice James Books, 2013) won the Beatrice Hawley Award. Winner of the 2013 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, his work also appears in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, the Believer, New England Review, and Kenyon Review. Jamaal has earned an MFA from Warren Wilson College as well as fellowships from Cave Canem and the Stadler Center for Poetry. He is founding editor, graphic designer, and filmmaker for the Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook and Video Series (www.organicweaponarts.com) and teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.
John Murillo’s first poetry collection, Up Jump the Boogie, was a finalist for both the 2011 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Open Book Award. His other honors include a 2011 Pushcart Prize, two Larry Neal Writers Awards, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cave Canem Foundation, the New York Times, the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Currently, he serves on the creative writing faculty at New York University.
Randall Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award and most recently a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. Randall is a Cave Canem Fellow, a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a member of The Symphony: The House that Etheridge Built. Randall is Assistant Professor of English at the University of New Haven. An excerpt from his memoir titled Roxbury is published by Kattywompus Press. Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press in the publisher of his latest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy. He currently lives in NYC.
Marcus Jackson was born in Toledo, Ohio. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Harvard Review, The Cincinnati Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among many other publications. He has received fellowships from New York University and Cave Canem. His chapbook, Rundown, was published by Aureole Press. A professor at Middle Tennessee State University, his debut collection of poems, Neighborhood Register, was released in the fall of 2011.