June Jordan Jordan, June (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Janet Harris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Hayden Carruth

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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"]….


(The entire section is 575 words.)