Black History Month: June Jordan

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Here’s a poem from the poet, essayist, author and educator June Jordan, who lived from 1936 to 2002 and was influential in the Black Arts movement and beyond. The poem is taken from the Web site Chicken Bones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American themes:

I Must Become A Menace to My Enemies

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto, President of

The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

I will no longer lightly walk behind

a one of you who fear me:

Be afraid.

I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits and facial tics

I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore

and this is dedicated in particular

to those who hear my footsteps

or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery

cart

then turn around

see me

and hurry on

away from this impressive terror I must be:

I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon

surrounded by my comrades singing

terrible revenge in merciless

accelerating

rhythms

But

I have watched a blind man studying his face.

I have set the table in the evening and sat down

to eat the news.

Regularly

I have gone to sleep.

There is no one to forgive me.

The dead do not give a damn.

I live like a lover

who drops her dime into the phone

just as the subway shakes into the station

wasting her message

cancelling the question of her call:

fulminating or forgetful but late

and always after the fact that could save or

condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

II

How many of my brothers and my sisters

will they kill

before I teach myself

retaliation?

Shall we pick a number?

South Africa for instance:

do we agree that more than ten thousand

in less than a year but that less than

five thousand slaughtered in more than six

months will

WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

III

And if I

if I ever let you slide

who should be extirpated from my universe

who should be cauterized from earth

completely

(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the

terrorist degree)

then let my body fail my soul

in its bedevilled lecheries

And if I

if I ever let love go

because the hatred and the whisperings

become a phantom dictate I o-

bey in lieu of impulse and realities

(the blossoming flamingos of my

wild mimosa trees)

then let love freeze me

out.

I must become

I must become a menace to my enemies.

Source: Trouble the Water (325-327)

Click here to hear her read the poem: A Poem about Intelligence for My Brothers and Sisters, from 1992.

Her official Web site is here.

Here is a biography from the Voices from the Gap Web site.

From an obituary in the Guardian:

June Jordan, who has died aged 65, after suffering from breast cancer for several years, defied all pigeonholes. Poet, essayist, journalist, dramatist, academic, cultural and political activist – she was all these things, by turn and simultaneously, but above all, she was an inspirational teacher, through words and actions, and a supremely principled person.

Among African-American writers, she was undoubtedly one of the most widely published, the author of well over two dozen books of non-fiction, poetry, fiction, drama and children’s writing. She emerged onto the political and literary scene in the late 1960s, when the movements demanding attention were for civil rights and women’s liberation, and anti-war.

Article continues
She engaged with all of these and more, for her battles were for freedom, whether that involved planning a new architecture for Harlem with her mentor Buckminster Fuller, or speaking out on the Palestinian cause. She spoke out against, or did something about, oppression wherever it was to be found.

It was as a political essayist that Jordan stood head and shoulders above most of her contemporaries. Her collection Civil Wars (1981) was the first such work to be published by a black woman, dealing with battles both external and internal. In subsequent volumes, including On Call (1985) and Technical Difficulties (1992), she wrote about South Africa, Nicaragua and Lebanon, as well as myriad aspects of race and class in the US. She championed the use of black English in the education system 30 years before the emergence of the debate about “Ebonics” (a term she hated).

The previous authors and writings featured on this blog for Black History Month:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
Gwendolyn Brooks
August Wilson
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
Langston Hughes
“Cane” by Jean Toomer
“The Great Negro Plot” by Mat Johnson
“Passing” by Nella Larsen
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X”
“I Have a Dream” speech”
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
“The Known World” by Edward P. Jones
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“The Intuitionist” by Colson Whitehead
“Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Sonia Sanchez
“Black Girl in the Ring” by Nola Hopkinson

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