NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 59

In the Givens Collection, housed at the University of Minnesota, are the letters June Jordan wrote to me from 1975 to 1999.1 There are no letters for 1984. I visited Nicaragua in 1983 and had mixed feelings about what was going on in that country. By coincidence, I bumped into June in the Miami airport, as she was heading to Nicaragua, and I was returning to the United States. Little did I suspect a considerable amount of time would pass, before we talked and laughed together again. This poem is similar to Jordan’s “Poem Against the State of Things….” Here, we find her once again being a writer of witness. The subject is the mysterious murders of 28 black children that haunted the city of Atlanta for two years between 1979 and 1981. It begins with a haunting opening line: What kind of a person would kill Black children? What follows are lines asking the same question over and over: What kind of a person could kill a Black child and then kill another Black child and then kill another Black child and then kill another Black child and then kill another Black child and then kill another Black child And stay above suspicion? What about the police? What about somebody Black? Notice the reference to the police as suspect. A number of June Jordan’s poems question police violence. It is one of the reasons why her work continues to be important and timely. “Poem about Police Violence,” for example, sounds like something written by the hip-hop group, n.w.a.: Tell me something What you think would happen if everytime they kill a black boy Then we kill a cop everytime they kill a black man Then we kill a cop You think the accident rate would lower Subsequently? Her use of repetition reflects a blues element. The repetition is not just for sound but also to underscore and emphasize a political point of view and message. Jordan’s work is not just an indictment of the status quo; it offers hope and optimism. Jordan must be viewed as a woman who saw her work being defined as the poetry of the New World. Her essay, “For Sake of Peoples Poetry: Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us,” outlines the nature and content of the type of work each new generation of writers should be challenged to produce. Jordan once proclaimed: The wreck of our language implies the destruction of our work as writers. And more, it portends the destruction of our democracy. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE All my life I’ve been studying revolution. I’ve been looking for it, pushing at the possibilities and waiting for that moment when there’s no more room for rhetoric, for research or for reason: when there’s only my life or my death to act upon. “The Test of Atlanta 1979” 57 These last lines are important. June Jordan and I would have a major disagreement around Nicaragua and us foreign policy. We would even find ourselves in a hotel elevator at a major writers’ conference and not even acknowledging each other’s presence. It was an example of how politics can often destroy relationships, and it was also an indication of how passionate June was about what she believed in. In her essay “Nicaragua: Why I had to Go There” in On Call, she wrote: