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The Essential June Jordan

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Honored as a "Best Book of 2021" by Publishers Weekly

"This volume of verse displays the undeniable legacy June Jordan left on both our literature and culture. Collected here are blazing examples of poetry as activism, stanzas that speak truth to power and speak out against violence against women and police brutality. But Jordan also speaks on the significance of hope, mixing, as Brown puts it, 'the doom and devastation made mundane through media with the hard decision to love anyway.'"—O, The Oprah Magazine

"A selection of poems published between 1971 and 2001, this posthumous volume reflects Jordan’s view of poetry as 'a political action' that can 'build a revolution.' Her own work is filled with love and delight as well as revenge and justice."—New York Times Book Review, "Editor's Choice"

The Essential June Jordan honors the enduring legacy of a poet fiercely dedicated to building a better world. In this definitive volume, introduced by Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, June Jordan’s generous body of poetry is distilled and curated to represent the very best of her works. Written over the span of several decades—from Some Changes in 1971 to Last Poems in 2001­—Jordan’s poems are at once of their era and tragically current, with subject matter including racist police brutality, violence against women, and the opportunity for global solidarity amongst people who are marginalized or outside of the norm. In these poems of great immediacy and radical kindness, humor and embodied candor, readers will (re)discover a voice that has inspired generations of contemporary poets to write their truths. June Jordan is a powerful voice of the time-honored movement for justice, a poet for the ages. Introduced by Jericho Brown, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer prize in poetry.

ISBN-13: 9781556596209

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

Publication Date: 05-04-2021

Pages: 256

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

June Jordan was born in Harlem in 1936 and was the author of ten books of poetry, seven collections of essays, two plays, a libretto, a novel, a memoir, five children’s books, and June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint. As a professor at UC Berkeley, Jordan established Poetry for the People, a program to train student teachers to teach the power of poetry from a multicultural worldview. She was a regular columnist for The Progressive and her articles appeared in The Village Voice, The New York Times, Ms., Essence, and The Nation. After her death from breast cancer in 2002, a school in the San Francisco School District was renamed in her honor.

Read an Excerpt

I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto, President of
The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976


1
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 canceling 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.

2
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.

3
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 bedeviled 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.




I guess it was my destiny to live so long

Death chase me down death’s way uproot a breast infest the lymph nodes crack a femur rip morale to shreds

Death chase me down death’s way tilt me off-kilter crutch me slow nobody show me how you make a cup of coffee with no hands

Death chase me down death’s way awkward in sunlight single in a double bed at night and hurtling out of mind and out of sight

Don’t chase me down down down death chasing me death’s way

And I’m not done
I’m not about to blues my dues or beg

I am about to teach myself to fly slip slide flip run fast as I need to on one leg




It’s Hard to Keep a Clean Shirt Clean

Poem for Sriram Shamasunder
And All of Poetry for the People


It’s a sunlit morning with jasmine blooming easily and a drove of robin redbreasts diving into the ivy covering what used to be a backyard fence or doves shoving aside the birch tree leaves when a young man walks among the flowers to my doorway where he knocks then stands still brilliant in a clean white shirt

He lifts a soft fist to that door and knocks again

He’s come to say this was or that was not and what’s anyone of us to do about what’s done what’s past but prickling salt to sting our eyes

What’s anyone of us to do about what’s done

And 7-month-old Bingo puppy leaps and hits that clean white shirt with muddy paw prints here and here and there

And what’s anyone of us to do about what’s done
I say I’ll wash the shirt no problem two times through the delicate blue cycle of an old machine the shirt spins in the soapy suds and spins in rinse and spins and spins out dry

not clean

still marked by accidents by energy of whatever serious or trifling cause the shirt stays dirty from that puppy’s paws

I take that fine white shirt from India the threads as soft as baby fingers weaving them together and I wash that shirt between between the knuckles of my own two hands
I scrub and rub that shirt to take the dirty markings out

At the pocket and around the shoulder seam and on both sleeves the dirt the paw prints tantalize my soap my water my sweat equity invested in the restoration of a clean white shirt

And on the eleventh try
I see no more no anything unfortunate no dirt

I hold the limp fine cloth between the faucet stream of water as transparent as a wish the moon stayed out all day

How small it has become!
That clean white shirt!
How delicate!
How slight!
How like a soft fist knocking on my door!
And now I hang the shirt to dry as slowly as it needs the air to work its way with everything

It’s clean.
A clean white shirt nobody wanted to spoil or soil that shirt much cleaner now but also not the same as the first before that shirt got hit got hurt not perfect anymore just beautiful

a clean white shirt

It’s hard to keep a clean shirt clean.