June Jordan expects much of her readers and justifies this demand by asking even more from herself. As in her novella His Own Where (1971), which renders the reality of a love between two teenagers in the language of the narrator’s mental observations, Jordan assumes that young readers can respond to a creative use of form and poetic structure and an inventive use of American English. She assumes that her young readers still retain the qualities of hope, enthusiasm, openness, curiosity, and decency that can be reached by an honest presentation of a complex, difficult subject. She wrote Who Look at Me for those who are not frozen by bigotry or poisoned by hate, and the continuing racial division in the United States has kept her work timely and relevant, just as the pictures, painted through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, speak both to a submerged history and to a contemporary reality.
The idea of a poet looking at a painting is a part of an established tradition in American letters, notably in William Carlos Williams’ essay “Pictures from Brueghel” (1962), and it carries the thought that the conventional division of genres need not prevent a fusion of modes, an appropriate point for a work that attempts to remove artificial boundaries that separate people. Considering how many young readers are familiar with the work/text union of comic books and magazines, Jordan’s efforts may not seem that unusual, and the increasing reliance on visual means of presenting information through computer technology may also make Jordan’s hybrid seem simply another variant in an increasingly fluid mix.