June Jordan was not an academic, ivory-tower poet given to abstract speculations about the nature of truth and beauty. She was a self-avowed anarchist activist who considered all poems to be political. Indeed, she stated that to her, William Shakespeare’s sonnets were examples of status quo politics, mirroring the ideology of an idle leisure class. Her poetic ambition was to be a “people’s poet” in the fashion of Pablo Neruda, particularly a black people’s poet.
Jordan’s early poems are autobiographical and self-reflective, attempting to come to terms with her relationships with her parents and with her son Christopher. Yet even these early poems transcend the purely personal and illustrate her attempt to cope with being both black and a woman in a society that looks on women of color with indifference, if not with outright hostility. In Who Look at Me, she withstands the gaze of the white observer and finally even returns the look defiantly. Over the years, this defiance became increasingly characteristic of her poetry, even as the causes in which she engaged herself proliferated.
Her poetic output was to a large degree a running commentary on the social and political life in the United States, with allusions to sociopolitical events such as the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign, the 1991 police beating of Rodney King and subsequent trial, and even the controversial...
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