NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 56

I selected four poems: “Poem about My Rights;” “Poem Against the State of Things” (1975); “Grand Army Plaza;” and “The Test of Atlanta 1979.” “Poem about My Rights” 54 June Jordan described this poem as one of her breakthrough poems. Writing it was an act of courage. T he poem was written after she was raped in her home on Long Island in the 1970s. It was first read at one of the National Black Writers Conferences held at Howard University. I was in the auditorium and recall the emotional shock of the audience, when Jordan described what had happened to her. Her poem makes one immediately aware of what a woman faces every single moment, no matter her age, race, or where she might be living. The first 22 lines are a sweeping indictment of the conditions women face. What follows is a legal definition of rape and where the poem begins to take an international perspective. When she wrote this poem, a number of African nations were in the headlines: …I was wrong I was wrong again to be me being me where I was /wrong to be who I am which is exactly like South Africa penetrating into Namibia penetrating into Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like… Jordan’s poem takes issue with blaming the victims of rape. Her assertion is that she is not the problem. She shouldn’t be blamed; she is not wrong. Within the poem we see Jordan not only making connections between the personal and the political, but she also shows how gender, class, and race can also victimize us. In the poem she refers to her father walking across her college campus, believing he was in the wrong place. Being in the wrong place places one at risk. By the middle of the poem, Jordan summarizes and connects the dots and presents a powerful defining line — I am the history of rape. Here the scope and vision of Jordan’s work is as embracing as anything Walt Whitman might have written. In “Poem About My Rights” Jordan speaks for the multitudes. Her poem is militant and concludes as a proclamation of defiance and resistance.