Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
Naming Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems, June Jordan’s most monumental volume of poetry, is a collection that covers a wide range of topics. The poems in the collection span more than thirty years; fifty pieces never published previously are also included in this volume. In Naming Our Destiny, Jordan demonstrates that it is her mission as an artist to change the world, and with the poems in this collection, Jordan takes a stance against oppression as she explores the black experience in America.
Jordan’s volume begins with “Poem from Taped Testimony in the Tradition of Bernard Goetz.” The poem, which starts, “This was not I repeat this was not a racial incident,” reflects Jordan’s willingness to include contemporary affairs that have political and historical significance in her poetry. With the verses of this poem, Jordan tries to show the reader, from a black woman’s perspective, just what might pass through a mind like that of Bernard Goetz—a white man who shot black youths in a New York City subway in the early 1980’s. Jordan looks unflinchingly at the reality of this event and states it in the simplest language. This poem also displays the power of idiomatic and colloquial language.
Another example of Jordan’s devotion to exploiting instances of human oppression can be found in “The Female and the Silence of a Man.” The poem, situated in the middle of the collection, is a response to Irish poet William Butler Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan.” Yeats’s poem retells the myth of the rape of Leda by the god Zeus, who takes, for the act, the form of a swan. In her feminist revision of Yeats’s classic, Jordan calls attention to women’s plight as victims of male oppression. She does not perpetuate, however, Leda’s victimization. She destroys the legacy of victimization by showing a woman becoming strong enough to silence her oppressor. The poem, while not technically complex, is as puissant as any written by those who adhere to a formalist credo.
Jordan’s commitment to a search for justice is evident in her closing autobiographical poem, “War and Memory.” The poem summarizes Jordan’s life. Relating her own experiences to cultural and historical events, such as the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty, Jordan is able to speak on behalf of the world’s oppressed, dispossessed, and disfranchised. Throughout Naming Our Destiny, Jordan appeals to the decency and humanity of her audience. Each poem is a plea for all to exercise compassion toward others. In Naming Our Destiny Jordan makes artful use of meter and rhyme to protest the everyday human oppression that might otherwise go unrecognized.
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