Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

June Jordan, a poet you should know

"I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black: it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect. "
--June Jordan
"As a Black poet and writer, I am proud our Black, verbally bonding system born of our struggle to avoid annihilation...and so I work, as a poet and a writer, against the eradication of this system, this language, the carrier of Black-survivor consciousness."
--June Jordan

Listen up. Today, the daddy is gonna be honest: he's hatin' on June Jordan; and she's dead! Check it: She was a poet who was cherished by many of her peers, by other great poets and writers like Toni Cade Bambara, Nikki Giovanni, and Mari Evans, to name only a few, written an opera with John Adams and Peter Sellers, helped plan a new Harlem, co-starred in some movie with Angela Davis (whom the daddy used to have a crush on); and-- worst of all--she's sipped coffee with Malcolm X, his all-time hero. But wait. There's more.

The Sistah has written more than two dozen books; she's been anthologized all over the place. It's rare to read a contemporary American poetry book edited by some black male or female professor and not see a poem by Jun Jordan. So, like a teenager angry at her mom for not letting her go out on some weeknight, the daddy-- just before slamming a bedroom door-- is saying, "I hate you!"

Okay. Maybe it's more like admiration and respect than hate. After all, the Sistah has written more than two dozen books; and written for The Progressive, one of his favorite magazines. And check this: her books include not only poetry but political essays, memoirs and novels. Now, the political essays and the politics, which Jordan infuses neary all of her writing, is what sets her apart from most writers. Not only is the writing is superb; the politics is radical, militant, and working class.

She was unashamedly and irreversibly a radical political critic and social activist. For Jordan, political convictions stood on the same universe as love. So her political essays seemed to merge with poems about love, passion and commitment on both a personal and the political level.


Jordan was born in 1936, in Harlem, New York. She found her poetic voice in high school and continued to write poetry at Barnard College. While at Barnard College, she married Michael Meyer, a student. While Michael attended graduate school, she remained at Barnard. She was there until 1957. She had her first child in 1958; and she divorced Michael in 1965. Negotiating life as a single, working mother and a black woman helped shape her identify and inform her writing.

In 1971, she published her first novel, "His Own Where" which seemed an autobiographical story about her relationship with her parents. It was nominated for the National Book Award.

In 1981, Jordan wrote "Civil Wars." It consisted of essays, letters, and speeches about the hot issues of the day, including Black feminism to racism, violence, and homosexuality. But what attracted the daddy was another book of essays entitled "On Call," which was published in 1985.

In "For the sake of people's poetry," the first chapter of On Call, Jordan admits that she is loathe to give props to a white dude for anything. But Walt Whitman was a different white guy altogether. Marveling at his writing, she wrote:

"As Shakespeare is to England, Dante to Italy, Tolstoy to Russia, Goethe to Germany, Agostino Neto to Angola, Pablo Neruda to Chile, Mao-Tse-Tung to China, Ho Chi Minh to Vietnam, who is the great American writer, the distinctively American poet, the giant American "literatus"? Undoubtedly, the answer is Walt Whitman." Indeed, she paints Neruda as a Whitman descendant and people's poet, a poet who writes on behalf of the people, and almost with the people in mind."

She reminds the reader of the conclusion of Neruda's brilliant "Heights of the Macchu Picchu," where he states, "Arise and birth with me, my brother." Using some earlier lines from the same work, she notes the perspective and context of Neruda, which comes from the working and oppressed from below, not the insensitive and avaricious elite from above:

"I came by another river, river by river, street after street,
city by city, one bed and another,
forcing the salt of my mask through a wilderness;
and there, in the shame of ultimate hovels, lampless
and tireless,
lacking bread or a stone or a stillness, alone in myself,
I whirled at my will, dying the death that was mine."

Poetic genius

Jordan, another poetic genius, another descendant of Whitman, another "people's poet," was best known for her poetry. And it's an urgent poetry, a poetry reaching out to working people, poor people, political activists, and progressives saying, " Let's come together; Let's organize ; Let's fight for change." In "these poems," she writes:

"These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
are you ready?"

Jordan may be best known for poetry that criticizes police brutality against black men, especially black male youth. It's a criticism that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960's and 1970's. In "Poem about Police Violence," she is clear and unwavering:

Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
like Olympian pools from the running
mountainous snows under the sun

sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen

I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
and repetitive affront as when they tell me
18 cops in order to subdue one man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
(don't you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a "justifiable accident" again

People been having accidents all over the globe
so long like that I reckon that the only
suitable insurance is a gun
I'm saying war is not to understand or rerun
war is to be fought and won

sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
blots it out/the bestial but
not too often tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?"

In "Poem for South African Women," from her book "Passion," she seeks not only understanding and sensibility but action in dealing with the plight of South African women. And she asks, "Who will join this standing up?"

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for."

The great novelist and essayist Toni Morrison said of Jordan:

"In political journalism that cuts like razors in essays that blast the darkness of confusion with relentless light; in poetry that looks as closely into lilac buds as into death's mouth...she has comforted, explained, described, wrestled with, taught and made us laugh out loud before we wept...I am talking about a span of forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art."

Pick up a book by June Jordan. She's a people's poet you should know.


Works by June Jordan

  • Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan (2002)
  • Soldier: A Poet's Childhood (2001) (Review in VG Critiques)
  • Poetry for the People: Finding a Voice Through Verse (1996)
  • I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995)
  • June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (1995)
  • Haruko Love Poems (1994)
  • Technical Difficulties (1992)
  • Lyrical Campaigns (1989)
  • Moving Towards Home (1989)
  • Naming Our Destiny (1989)
  • Living Room (1985)
  • On Call (1985)
  • Civil Wars (1981)
  • Kimako's (1981)
  • Some Changes (1981)
  • Passion: New Poems (1980)
  • Things in the Dark (1977)
  • New Life: New Room (1975)
  • New Days (1974)
  • Dry Victories (1972)
  • Fannie Lou Hamer (1972)
  • His Own Where (1971)

Works about the Author

  • Allen, F. "Jordan, June Poetry for the People-A Revolutionary Blueprint." Library Journal. Dec 1995: 120, 115.
  • Carpenter, Humphrey and Prichard, Mari. Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism. (2 vols.) Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1976, 1983.
  • Deveaux, Alexis. "Creating Soul Food: June Jordan." Essence 11 Apr 1981: 82, 138-150.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography. Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985.
  • Gaster, A. et al. The International Authors and Writers Who's Who. 8th ed. Cambridge: International Biographical Centre, 1977, 1982.
  • Kinloch, Valerie and Margaret Grebowicz, eds. Still Seeking an Attitude: Critical Reflections on the Work of June Jordan. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004.
  • Kirkpatrick, D.L. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978, 1983.
  • Madison, D.S., ed. The Woman That I Am: The Literature and Culture of Contemporary Women of Color. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
  • Rothschild, Matthew. "A Feast of Poetry." The Progressive. May 1994: 58, 48-50.
  • Rowe, Monica D. "Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997." American Visions Feb/Mar 1998: 13, 30-32.
  • Rush, Theresa Gunnels, et al. Black American Writers Past and Present: A Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary. 2 vols. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  • Ward, Martha and Dorothy Marquardt. Authors of Books for Young People. 2nd ed. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.


Anonymous said...

She was a sassy one.

Anonymous said...

Dear MacDaddy:

It it bewildering to learn about people that I didn't know's as if I were robbed, yet didn't realize that I owned it in the first place. Once I've learned-then I have to go back and get all of their works and "discover" them from beginning to end. Such is the plight of the person of color in America.

It is indeed shocking that we've had all these wonderful people who didn't sit down and settle and say "oh well-nothing can change so why try?". The list gets longer and longer-and you're the vehicle that drives the message home. This is your true calling, Mac. I love you for it.

Just as Nina Simone's works "No Fault But Mine", "Suzanne", "Pirate Jenny", "I Hold No Grudge", and her most endearing work, "Young, Gifted And Black" ring out beyond her living time right up to today, these geniuses of the 19th and 20th Centuries, despite everything, endure through their works to today. One day, we all will be able to embrace all of these people and their contributions...theirs as well as YOUR MUSINGS will be regarded as treasures of a people who were uncompromising, yet forgiving in a land that dared try to strip them of hope, feeling, love and happiness.

Thank you Mac.

James Williams

XO said...

Can't say it any better than James. One by one you plumb the depths of these wonderful ("unknown") poets and add your own interesting commentary and references. I feel and see the foundation of a collection of poems and essays edited by MacDaddy and published for the edification of a broader audience! Is this in the works?

Nun in the Hood said...

Good Morning, MacDaddy.....Let's hear it for JUNE JORDAN...Let's hear it for WOMEN everywhere who have made commitments to personal and social justice...for instance, did you read the article in the Tribune yesterday : 300 AFGHAN WOMEN FIND THEIR VOICE. Talk about 'Radical and Militant'.......These women, facing an angry throng of mostly MEN about 3 times the size of their group, were opposing a controversial Shiite marriage law that,among other things makes it illegal for a woman to resist her husband's sexual advances, and also illegal for women to work outside the home or go to school without their husbands' permission. In the face of great danger to themselves they walked through that crowd to the Parliment.(Maybe you could write a poem about THAT)
I loved that June acted out of a profound and mature love of self and out of respect for the person of dignity she is! We need role models like her to speak to the injustices of our day.....
The height and depth of June Jordan's poetry touches my soul this springtime....not only because of the lilacs, but also since folks are out and about....They say it's
going to be an 'active' summer....Let's hope and pray that our police will act out of RESPECT for themselves and others!!!
And don't forget, we still have 45 DAY OF EASTER to go!

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

James: Thanks. And you're right of course: All these brave people. We stand on their shoulders, and we don't know who many of them are. Thanks for understanding that I'm trying to shine a little light on them. By the way, I notice that, every time you comment, you include musical references. Love it.

XO:"I feel and see the foundation of a collection of poems and essays edited by MacDaddy and published for the edification of a broader audience! Is this in the works?"
Thanks for asking. And, yes, it's in the works. More later. Thanks for dropping by.

Nun:Being a woman and a social activist, I thought you would appreciate fellow activist June Jordan. Yes, I did read the article about those brave Afghan women. Warmed my heart. Maybe the spotlight on their plight by the world media and condemnation by world leaders will also play a role in changing the oppressive laws the Taliban is trying to put into place. Blessings.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Yea, James Williams said it all. But I'm wondering how three years of grad school in American cultural studies and I missed June Jordan. . . thanks once more Daddy.

Evenotes said...

Hello MacDaddy,

I had heard of June Jordan, but now I can say that I know something about her. Thanks for highlighting her story and her works. I love visiting your blog--it takes me on a life excursion from music
(especially the blues which is a personal favorite) to news and writers such as Ms. Jordan. Thanks.

j said...

Daddy, You are one of the few blogs where the comments are as interesting as the posts. Lots of fine words over here! I'm inspired every time I visit.

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

Evenotes: You are one of the many who know me and come to this blog. Most read it but don't leave a comment. But it's always great when a good friend drops by and leaves a message. Thank you.

Sagacious: I'm sure that, in your three years of grad school, you learned about a lot of great people that I still don't know...Sometimes, I wonder if we Americans get a quality education, especially in the social sciences or cultural studies. It seems that all the truly important things I learned outside of class and off-campus.

What do you think?

"Daddy, You are one of the few blogs where the comments are as interesting as the posts."
Yes, Judy, the comments and those doing the commenting are wonderful. And that includes you. I'll be visiting you real soon over at Zebra Sounds. Thanks.

Rethabile said...

I admit to knowing little of June. But it really is never too late. So I thank you for this post.

David Hampton: said...

Wow! Thanks for posting this. I have another poet to add to my list of research paper topics for my American Lit. class. Many of my students have trouble getting into poetry until I introduce them to writers like Nikki Giovanni, especially when they realize that she wrote a poem about 2Pac and has a tatoo of "thug life" on her arm. June Jordan seems to be cut from the same cloth, but with her own texture.