Things That I Do in the Dark
June Jordan’s selected poetry, Things That I Do in the Dark, represents her achievement in over thirty years as a poet. Its arrangement is not chronological, but carefully thematic, and the themes—her family, sexual love, political protest, and a search for personal identity—obviously demonstrate longterm interests and emotional investments. In short, in judging this book, we are judging the success of Jordan’s career as a poet.
The poem that gives the book its title begins:
These poemsthey are things that I doin the darkreaching for youwhoever you are
In these lines we see the rhythms of a living speech and the rich ambiguity that plays on the relationship between creativity and sexuality. The promise of this initial poem, however, is only partially fulfilled. The imagery in Jordan’s poetry is seldom so interesting; however, the rhythms of the poems consistently and interestingly remain the authentic rhythms of speech. Sometimes, there is speech itself:
“You know this game?Nothing personal. For instanceJune is all birdbut you,” he spoketo my rival, “Youare half horse-half-butterfly.”
More often, speech is transformed into rhythmic drama:
Joetha Collier she wasyoung and shewas Black and she wasshe wasshe was andblood stains Union Street in Mississippi.
Here the speaker, anxious to end the poem, mentions the girl’s youth and her blackness and looks toward completing the parallel structure of the sentence.
But the sentence will not end properly; it is cut short just as the girl’s life was at the age of eighteen. Her violent death, tapped out in a headline, ends the poem.
Other effective uses of speech rhythm and rhetoric abound. A love poem begins:
But beyond theanxietythequerulous and reckless intersectingconflict. . . .
In these lines we have the poet speaking to herself in analytical language at one remove from experience and, seemingly, from poetry. But the poem ends:
dreams of gardens dreams of filmand picturesof the daringsimplefabulousbolddifficultand distantinextricablemainniggerthat I love
Finally, the poet’s strategy has become clear. She is imitating the...
(The entire section is 1409 words.)