The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Poem About My Rights,” written in free verse, juxtaposes the personal odyssey of one black woman facing oppression in the United States with the political struggle of nations against oppression in southern Africa. The poem’s title is ironic, as the narrator chronicles the “wrongs” that exist within the person she is as well as the external conditions that impact her. Society’s edicts infringe upon and impede any rights that author June Jordan feels are hers. She is a product of her people’s heritage and, as such, must live according to contemporary cultural suppositions.

Using first person throughout, Jordan details the wrongs that she perceives in herself: wrong color, wrong sex, and living on the wrong continent. She is the potential victim of any man who would physically force himself on her. The rape victim becomes the wrongdoer because the law assumes implied consent in cases of rape and brutality. Burden of proof is also left to the victim in order for justice to be served. Personal, consensual rape is then transferred to the broader area of southern Africa: South Africa’s forced penetration into Namibia and Namibia’s subsequent penetration into Angola are detailed.

Jordan then shifts the scene of “Poem About My Rights” back to the United States and cites both national and personal wrongs. She highlights the use of power by the government and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the killing of black leaders, and...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The individual human condition is juxtaposed with national and global conditions. Victimization of the black female by society is compared to the victimization of African countries by more powerful African countries. Jordan has said that when she writes a poem, she searches for the most harrowing or superlative way to express her feelings and get her point across. The rape image in “Poem About My Rights” reflects this practice. The poem’s shocking and violent images are used to make comparisons among individual, national, and global situations. The forced gang rape of an unconsenting female in France is deemed by law as consent since male penetration did not include ejaculation, and therefore there is no proof. It is determined that the individual is wrong because of who and where she is at the time of the incident. To Jordan, this is analogous to the penetration of African nations by more powerful countries. Jordan also applies the rape image to her current situation as a black female: “I am the history of rape”; “I have been raped because I have been wrong”; “I have been the meaning of rape”; and “I have been the problem everyone seeks to/ eliminate by forced/ penetration with or without the evidence.”

In Lauren Muller’s June Jordan’s Poetry for the People (1995), Jordan defines poetry as “a political action undertaken for the sake of information and the exorcism that telling the truth makes possible.” She goes on...

(The entire section is 560 words.)