Jordan, June 1936–
Jordan is an American poet, essayist, editor, and writer of children's books. She explores the black experience in America in poetry noted for its ironic presentation of emotions ranging from rage to love, and from political to personal concerns. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
There's so much right about "Dry Victories"—the two characters, who are alive, funny, bitter, cool; the magnificent selection of photographs: slaves and cotton pickers, Congressmen and civil rights leaders, police clubs and hoses at Birmingham and a bombed church, a smiling Southern President and the casket of a Northern one, the whole pictorial history of three decades of hope, anguish, despair—that it's a shame the book isn't completely successful.
The fault here is that while the problems are stated clearly, the conclusions are hazy. Miss Jordan says voting isn't "where it's at"—that civil rights are meaningless without the "economic bases of freedom." Yet nowhere does she deal with the forces that have served to maintain, or at least permit poverty.
"Dry Victories" ends with the boys hoping that "parents and them other folk" will … "do something." But what has obstructed that "something," or what it should or could be, is never spelled out.
Janet Harris, "Dry Victories," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 11, 1973, p. 8.
June Jordan's selected poems ["Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poetry"] … fall into three classifications: political, personal and experimental. (p. 15)
Jordan's experimental impulses fall … into two varieties. One is technical, arty, formalistic, avant-gardiste, in the manner of the New York poets of the 1950's (of whom she was one). I don't mean her work isn't her own or sounds anything like Ashbery or even LeRoi Jones…. But the same self-conscious poeticizing is observable. One section of her book is called, for instance, "Towards a Personal Semantics," and it contains many poems of this sort…. They are full of polysyllabic abstractions, images pulled out of nowhere, themes that appear and disappear and never quite define themselves. Maybe these poems would be comprehensible if one heard the poet read them…. They do possess a cadential vigor, reinforced by excited, onrushing word associations, that might be effective if chanted in the manner of a black sermon, with antiphonal responses from the auditors. Perhaps then they would be lively and if not rationally then intuitively intelligible. But on the page they are the opposite—flat and murky.
Jordan's other variety of experimentalism may not be experimental at all, narrowly speaking. It is much less self-conscious, almost unconscious—spontaneous and natural [as in "Sunflower Sonnet Number Two"]….
Supposing we could just go on and on as two voracious in the days apart as well as when we side by side (the many ways we do that) well! I would consider then perfection possible, or else worthwhile to think about. Which is to say I guess the costs of long term tend to pile up, block and complicate, erase away the accidental, temporary, near thing/pulsebeat promises one makes because the chance, the easy new, is there in front of you. But still, perfection takes some sacrifice of falling stars for rare. And there are stars, but none of you, to spare.
[This is] a sonnet as surely as anything from Petrarch to Cummings, with that unmistakable movement, that lyric play. Yet it is changed. Notice the interpermeation of black idiom, her own voice and literary English. What it produces is not merely verbal effect but an augmentation of poetic (human) feeling. (pp....
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Even in free poems Jordan is best when she retains this hint of tradition, working creatively, newly, with the span of poetry…. Just as black musicians have changed, augmented and reformed Western music, making it functionally their own without quite abandoning it, so Jordan and other black poets are taking to themselves, rightly, the formal impulse that was Shakespeare's, Wordsworth's, Browning's. But taking it, commanding it; not imitating it. (p. 35)
Hayden Carruth, "Politics and Love," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 9, 1977, pp. 15, 35.
The proliferation of significant women poets is a fact, and June Jordan is in the front ranks with such poets as Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Ai, Alice Walker, and Diane Wakoski, making major contributions. Things That I Do in the Dark is Jordan's tenth book, a generous and representative selection of new and old poems. Many of the poems are political, yet Jordan is too talented a writer to confuse propaganda with art. Her work is informed by a vision that is intensely original, and we can learn much about community and humanity from this book. (p. 10)
Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1978, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 54. No. 1 (Winter, 1978).