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:
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
then turn around
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
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
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
I must become the action of my fate.
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
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
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?
I must become a menace to my enemies.
And if I
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
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
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.
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”
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
“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
“Black Girl in the Ring” by Nola Hopkinson