June Jordan Jordan, June (Vol. 5) - Essay

Jordan, June (Vol. 5)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jordan, June 1936–

Ms Jordan, a Black American poet, has also written poems, fiction, and nonfiction for children. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)

June Jordan assembles Some Changes out of the black experience, and she does so coherently. Her expression is developed out of, or through, a fine irony that manages to control her bitterness, even to dominate her rage against the intolerable, so that she can laugh and cry, be melancholic and scornful and so on, presenting always the familiar faces of human personality, integral personality. She adapts her poems to the occasions that they are properly, using different voices, and levels of thought and diction that are humanly germane and not disembodied rages or vengeful shadows; thus she can create her world, that is, people it for us, for she has the singer's sense of the dramatic and projects herself into a poem to express its special subject, its individuality. Of course it's always her voice, because she has the skill to use it so variously: but the imagination it needs to run through all her changes is her talent. Moreover she seems not to have rejected on principle what has been available to poets in the way of models; in other words, you can see all the white poets she has read, too. She has been assimilating their usages of phrase and stanza; she sees with her own eyes through them, speaks them with her own voice, which is another way of remarking that she is interested in poetry itself. No matter how she will use her poems, and most of them are political in thrust, she has the great good sense, or taste, not to politicize her poetry. There is a difference, even in love poetry, nature poetry, and she has some of that sort, between speaking as yourself and editorializing for others. She is both simple and strong; she is clear in the head, besides…. When June Jordan goes through her changes, she does it; she doesn't talk about doing it. For us there is pleasure in that, because we can go through them with her. And that means she has poetry near her. (pp. 301-03)

Jascha Kessler, in Poetry (© 1973 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1973.

June Jordan writes ragalike pieces of word-music that serve her politics, both personal and public. (p. 48)

[Her] political poems are the most powerful and beautiful in [New Days: Poems of Exile and Return] … and among the greatest of their kind. In the American Poetry Review … she wrote: "I expect a distinctively Black poem to speak for me-as-part-of-an-us." But she never sacrifices poetry for politics. In fact, her craft, the patterning of sound, rhythm, and image, make her art inseparable from political statement, form inseparable from content. [She] uses images contrapuntally to interweave disparate emotions. (pp. 49, 113)

Her New Days is a substantial book of five sections: "Conditions for Leaving," "Poems of Exile," and three sections written after her return from Rome. "Poems of Exile" culminates with the long "Roman Poem Number Five," about visiting the ruins of Pompeii. In it Jordan describes her contradictory feelings on seeing mummified citizens in the lava-frozen horror of unexpected death: living visitors admire the poise/of agony the poise of agony islabsolute." And there are love poems, breathtaking in their simplicity…. (p. 113)

Honor Moore, in Ms. (© 1975 Ms. Magazine Corp.), April, 1975.