Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me, Second Edition

African American Narrative Poetry from Oral Tradition

By Bruce Jackson

Subjects: Folklore, African American Studies, Poetry, General Interest
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438496566, 370 pages, February 2024
Paperback : 9781438496559, 370 pages, February 2024

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Introduction to the 2024 Edition
Preface to the 1974 Edition
The Toast World



1. Stackolee

2. Stackolee in Hell

3. Brock Hankton

4. Dolomite

5. Jesse James

6. Boothill McCoy

7. Herman from the Shark-Tooth Shore

8. My Reflection (The Wanderer’s Trail; All You Tough Guys that Thinks You’re Wise)

9. Feeble Old Man (Feeble Old Man and a Kid Named Dan)

10. Subject to a Fall

11. Derringer Youngblood

12. Satan’s Playground of Hell

13. Eddie LeDoux

14. Limpty Lefty McCree

15. I Was Sittin’ in the Jail to Do a Stretch of Time

16. They Can’t Do That

17. Life of a Junkie


18. Joe the Grinder and G.I. Joe

19. Hobo Ben

20. Treacherous Breast

21. Three Whores Settin’ Down in Boston

22. Pimping Sam (Wicked Nell; The Pimp)

23. Hustlin’ Dan

24. Ping Pong Joe

25. Don’t Look So Downhearted, Buddy (Don’t Feel So Downhearted, Buddy)

26. Sweet Lovin’ Rose

27. Strange, Strange Things

28. You Told Me a Lie

29. Cocaine Nell

30. L.A. Street

31. The Lame and the Whore

32. Toledo Slim

33. Pretty Pill

34. Dogass Pimp

35. Ain’t It a Bitch?

36. If You See My Little Girl in Denver (Lady Liberty)

37. Corner of Forty-seventh and South Park (Little Old Wicked Nell)

38. Little Girl in the Gambler’s Nest (While Playing Short Coin)

39. Winehead Girl


40. Dance of the Freaks

41. Freaks’ Ball (Twenty-Two-Twenty; Bulldaggers’ Hall)

42. ’Flicted Arm Pete (Pisspot Pete)

43. Casey Jones

44. Cocaine Shorty

45. Herbert Hoover

46. The Voodoo Queen

47. Marie

48. Annabelle Jones


49. Signifying Monkey

50. Poolshooting Monkey

51. Partytime Monkey


52. Titanic


53. Ups on the Farm

54. I Got a Job Down in Florida for Croft

55. Once I Lived the Life of a Millionaire (Down and Out)

56. Life’s a Funny Old Proposition

57. Hoboes’ Convention

58. Junkies’ Ball

59. Junkies’ Heaven

60. Hophead Willie

61. Willie the Weeper

62. T.B. Bees

63. The Chinz

64. The Fly

65. The Alphabet

66. The Seven Wise Men

67. Get In out of the Rain

68. Drinkin’

69. Convict’s Prayer

70. Pearl Harbor

71. Hitler, You Lied to Me

72. I Used to Be a Cowboy

73. I Woke Up this Morning with a Hard On

74. Ringo

75. Through the Keyhole in the Door


76. My Uncle Sam

77. My Uncle Had a Old Gray Horse

78. Mary Had a Little Lamb

79. Miss Lookingood

80. Bend Your Back

81. The Rooster Crowed

82. The He-Frog

83. Running through the Jungle

84. Swinging through the Trees

85. Pussy

86. A Girl Told Me

87. Cock Is

88. The Ford

89. Forty-Nine Ford

90. Old Cods

91. I Used to Could Diddle All Night Long

92. Well Here’s to the Fool that Writes upon the Shithouse Walls

93. Here’s to the Lady with the Little Red Shoes

94. Well if I Had a Dog that Could Piss this Stuff

95. And Here’s to the Duck that Swim the Pond

96. Well Here’s to the Crane that Flew down the Lane

97. Here’s to You, Mag, You Dirty Hag (Motherfuck a Woman Lay Flat on Her Back)

98. And May Your Life Become Unlivable, Boy

99. Knockin’ down Chairs and Slammin’ Doors

100. Hickory Wood is the Best of Wood

101. When I Begin to Think When I Was a Young Man and in My Prime

102. This Is to the Women of Texas

103. Talk Some Shit, Richard

Index of First Lines

The classic work on African American toasts, the predecessor of rap.


Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me celebrates the African American oral tradition of toasting, one of the key roots of contemporary rap. Jackson was among the few to appreciate the profane energy and beauty of this rhymed form, collecting such classic toasts as "Stackolee," "The Titanic," "Signifying Monkey," "Dance of the Freaks," and dozens more. This unexpurgated edition offers the raw, vibrant, and still startling imagery of these toasts shaped by decades of oral transmission through the voices of countless rhymers. Just like rap, the toasting tradition enabled previously unheard or stifled topics, including racism, sexual exploitation, economic deprivation, and social oppression, to be expressed in a form that embodied multiple layers of meaning. Jackson helped preserve a rapidly dying art form to ensure that it would be available for many generations to come. In the words of Robin D.G. Kelley, "All you Hip Hop heads need to know this book if you want to know your roots."

Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and the James Agee Professor of American Culture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. His numerous books include The Story is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded; Ways of the Hand: A Photographer's Memoir; and Voices from Death Row (with Diane Christian), all published by SUNY Press. He lives in Buffalo, New York.


Praise for the Original Edition

"A brilliant, groundbreaking work in both the collection and analysis of African American oral culture. Indispensable." — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

"A stone cold classic!" — Robin D.G.Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"Funny as all get out, full of biting wit and dazzling wordplay, this book drops more science than Einstein while proving the genius of black folk who created meaning and defended their lives through signifying words." — Michael Eric Dyson, author of Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye

"These poems are the source of rap." — Amiri Baraka, author of Blues People