NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 57

In a 1981 Karla Hammond interview, Jordan made the following comment: I sent Ethelbert a copy of the “Poem About My Rights,” and he said, ‘you should take your mother out of that.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Because, until you get to your mother, everything you’re talking about; who has done something to you — whether it’s South Africa or the guys in France — is male. It’s a man in some form violating you.’ And I said, ‘Listen, I don’t give a damn who it is that violates me. Violation is violation. When my mother asked me to have braces on my teeth, plastic surgery on my nose, and straightened my hair, she violated me and that was the first woman I ever knew. She stays in that poem.’ Ahmos Zu-Bolton and I first published this poem in Hoo-Doo magazine #4. We heard June read it on the campus of Howard University on April 21, 1975. June was the second guest poet to appear on my Ascension Poetry Reading series, which I started in April 1974. June does not include “Poem Against the State of Things” in her collection Naming Our Destiny: New & Selected Poems, which was published in 1989. Why did she not select it? The poem in Hoo-Doo has a different title: it’s “Poem Against the State (of Things): Dedicated to the Memory of Brother L. D. Barkley.” Barkley, whose full name was Elliot L.D. Barkley, was one of the leaders among inmates at Attica prison. He was killed during the September 13, 1971, retaking of the institution. During the retaking of the prison, 43 people were killed, including twenty-nine inmates and 10 hostages. Whereas authorities would say Barkley was killed by ricocheting bullets; others said he was targeted and shot in the back at close range. The removal of Barkley’s name from the original title is interesting. In Things I Do in the Dark, Jordan replaces Barkley’s name with the year 1975. This change airbrushes Barkley out of a poem that is very descriptive of the Attica prison riot. Jordan’s poem is not just about a prison riot, uprising, or disturbance, however, it is a poem about human rights versus the power of the state. The reference to Salvador Allende, the socialist leader elected in Chile and then overthrown with usa help, shows once again Jordan’s decision to make international connections with things happening in America. Her vision is always large and all encompassing. She is a master of the metaphor, as well as, a writer of witness. The fourth section of her poem is like a coda to the first three sections: Wherever I go (these days) the tide seems low (oh) wherever I go (these days) the tide seems very very low God’s love has turned away from this Almighty place But I will pray one prayer while He yet grants me time and space: no more and never again! no more and never again! a- Men. a- Men. God’s love has turned away from this Almighty place. I think about this many years after Attica. I think about it as I read about the endless documentation of police brutality. Where is God’s love? Jordan refuses to accept defeat: But I will pray one prayer while He yet grants me time and space BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE I happen to think rape is one of the most heinous things that can happen to anyone. But there’s a victimization of people that is systematic, that we as black folks have to survive some kind of way. “Poem Against the State of Things” 55 PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF © CHESTER HIGGINS JR/CHESTERHJIGGINS.COM In an interview with Jill Nelson, published in the Quarterly Black Review of Books in the summer of 1994, Jordan explained: