Tuesday, March 08, 2005

because today is international women's day. think about it. dont stop.

"Poetry is a Political Act":
An Interview with June Jordan
by Julie Quiroz

June Jordan’s career as a poet, writer, teacher, and activist started in the early 1960s and spans the globe. The author of twenty-five books, June has just completed her childhood memoir, Portrait of the Poet As a Little Black Girl (1999). She is currently Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she also directs Poetry for the People.

ColorLines: You have written that "poetry is not a shopping list, a casual disquisition on the colors of the sky, a soporific daydream, or bumpersticker sloganeering. Poetry is a political action." What is poetry to you?
June Jordan: Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth. In the process of telling the truth about what you feel or what you see, each of us has to get in touch with himself or herself in a really deep, serious way. Our culture does not encourage us to undertake that attunement. Consequently, most of us really exist at the mercy of other people’s formulations of what’s important.
But if you’re in the difficult process of living as a poet, you’re constantly trying to make an attunement to yourself which no outside manipulation or propaganda can disturb. That makes you a sturdy, dependable voice—which others want to hear and respond to. So, poetry becomes a means for useful dialogue between people who are not only unknown, but mute to each other. It produces a dialogue among people that guards all of us against manipulation by our so-called leaders.
CL: How did you become a poet?
JJ: I became a poet because my father forced me to read and memorize and recite from Shakespeare’s plays, the Bible, and the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Edgar Allen Poe—all before I was five years old. This literature was completely incomprehensible to me, but I became immersed in the sounds of the language of these great writers. That, of course, was the hook that I seized in order to try and memorize this stuff so I could avoid getting beaten in the morning. The music of language became extremely important to me, and obvious to me. By the time I was seven I was writing myself. I was a poet.
CL: How did you become a political activist?
JJ: I was living in the public housing project in New York with my son when I met Evie Rich and her children at a playground. Evie lived across the street with her husband, Marvin Rich, who was the director of national CORE. CORE was committed to nonviolence, but I was not. But, based on my friendship with Evie as young mothers, I started going on freedom rides in 1966. The purpose of my first freedom ride was to try to desegregate the bus route from New York to Maryland. I said I’d go, but I didn’t say I’d be nonviolent.
We got to New Jersey someplace, and we went in to get a cup of coffee, and they wouldn’t serve us. We waited so long I fell asleep at the counter. The next thing I knew, this big white guy in a Marine uniform was waking me up and talking about I should get up and give him my seat. I just turned around and went "boom" with my elbow. We traded words and oh, it was a mess! People from our side came over to talk to me, and I thought, this nonviolence thing is not working for me. The rage I felt never left me. I kept thinking, if my son had done what I did, he would have been killed.
I decided from that point forward that I was "in," but "in" on my own terms. I remember listening to Dr. King on the radio saying "if any blood shall flow in the streets of Birmingham let it be our blood and not the blood of our white brothers and sisters." I really thought he had lost his mind. I think that was the first time it occurred to me that I had my own ideas. Dr. King was my hero. I just realized that I completely disagreed with him. I thought, "No way. It’s not gonna be our blood."
CL: What does it mean to be a black radical in 1998?
JJ: It means to educate myself incessantly about the world around me. We need to fathom the varieties of oppression that have made human beings suffer not only in this country but around the world, and to battle against the competition of miseries, to instead search for connections among peoples who have suffered from white supremacy or capitalist obsessions or unmitigated power.
I guess I’m saying that I don’t think of myself as a "black radical." Every one of us is becoming more precise about how we understand who we are. For example, I’m half Asian—my dad was half-Chinese and my mom was half-East Indian. I think it’s important for everyone, including so-called white people, to be more precise about who you are, to just be truthful and sane. This would help to mitigate against the dichotomizing demagoguery that has poisoned so much of radical politics here in the United States. Too many folks are unwilling to recognize that race is a social construct and that it was put together for certain reasons. That unwillingness continues to maim the ability of progressive people to come together without fighting each other.
CL: In your own work, which poems have been most transforming for you?
JJ: It’s difficult because every poem I write changes me, but I guess "Poem About My Rights." It specifies the struggle against apartheid, but it was about all kinds of stuff, not just South Africa. It documents a conceptual breakthrough that was also an emotional breakthrough for me. "Ghaflah," about my mother and her suicide, was also very important for me. "Poem About Commitment," which I wrote this past spring, was the first time I’ve said in a poem what I intend to do. It was a poem coming from my rage.
CL: Which of your poems have had the biggest public impact?
JJ: "Moving Toward Home," "Apology to the People of Lebanon," and then, way later, "Lebanon, Lebanon." I wrote those poems for myself, as a way of being a soldier here in this country. I didn’t know the poems would travel. I didn’t go to Lebanon until two years ago, but people told me that many Arabs had memorized these poems and translated them into Arabic. Haas M. Mroue [Lebanese American poet] has told me what it meant when he read the lines "I was born a black woman. Now I have become a Palestinian." This was unbelievably shocking to Arab peoples.
If I may, I’d like to say something about poetry. What’s important about poetry in the context of leadership is that most of the time, power has to do with dominance. But poetry is never about dominance. Poetry is powerful but it cannot even aspire to dominate anyone. It means making a connection. That’s what it means.

Poem about My Rights" (1980)

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can't
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can't do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
as I need to be
alone because I can't do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because 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 the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
my self
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it's about walking out at night
or whether it's about the love that I feel or
whether it's about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and disputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can't tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

- June Jordan

Sunday, March 06, 2005

i never blog at 122am. in fact i rarely blog. obviously. but that doesnt mean i dont write. i write on the subway all the time, and in my bed and when i'm out and other places. but i dont write enough. ugh, i wish i could stop saying i dont do things enough. could stop telling myself all the supposed bad things i do and dont do. well, i guess i'll just rewrite some things from my journal, dont know exactly what to write now...

At my work, a co-worker organized a speaking tour for two young (23 and 18 year old) Israeli Consciencous (sp) Objectors. I jotted down some random quotes and thoughts. Here's one from Eyal, the 18 year old about why he decided to refuse mandatory military service.

"I've never seen them. I've never talked to them. I just need to kill them."

Ah, I'm so overwhelmed at work and want to run away. I want time for me, my life, friends, family, heart.
It doesn't matter who you were yesterday. It matters who you are NOW!
"There's nothing that's too small and nothin that's insignificant." - Mario Hardy Ramirez (a beautiful man i respect and look up to)
"We cannot be easy with people who are not easy." Hernan (i dont know him at all really but i feel that he made, shit, there's not a word to describe this. He had heart that you could hear and feel when he spoke.)
"We can be whatever we can imagine ourselves to be." - Rodney Capistrano Camarce (A friend of mine who is really amazing and committed to changing the world through love.
"'It's not just me.' That's what we always find when we talk about it." - Beandrea Davis (A writer and photographer and yoga teacher who i've recently discovered and really enjoy.)
haha, you thought this was gonna be my thoughts. i did too actually. but these things are notes in my journal, in my life, heart and i am who i am not exclusive of the people that i am around and learn from. Plus i agree with this stuff.
Today i was thinking of the ways in which nature reflects my self. our selves. Like when the tree branches are tangled. We are tangled people. and we are tangled with other people. And when plants and trees grow through fences, cement, places that are difficult to grow in. We are like that, we can get through things, the "obstacles," the difficulties we are faced with, the things we carry deep (or not so deep) inside us. Its amazing what we live through emotionally and spiritually. We are so stripped and stolen from in this society of so much of the nourishment that we need to be beautiful, loving, growing people. Its hard to take all this pushing and pulling and still stand up, even walk. We are so detached, no, distant from, ah, this is how i know we are spiritual people because there are things that cannot be explained in words. we are too far from our mother earth, our life giver. the keyboard i touch, the 3rd floor of this house, the plastic water bottle, the cement, the genetically modified, preserved, chemicalized, colored candy i eat, the flourescent lights, matress i sleep on, clothes made in china by small children... this is all too far from sleeping on the earth and waking up to the smell of trees and the sunshine in the morning. i need to write more. here is where i am alive. here is where i am free. i am me.
i need space to breathe, to be me, to let go, to explore, to dream, to grow, to be, to be.
trapped in this box of sanity
or insanity
either way they are both just words
nothing can convey this feeling, these feelings, these spirits inside me itching
to escape
to dance
to sing
to laugh and even cry
i miss my sisters
i want to reach my arms around the earth and touch each one of you
i want us to become strong
to take back our lives, our hearts, our tears
it has been too long
too long that we've cried alone
its time to wipe our faces, our fists
stand up
and never stop

so that came from out of nowhere, that was not previously scribed in my green journal pages. thats the thing, i need to have space to write, to explore, think and grow. its been a while since i've done that. i think that after my position at AFSC is up at the beginning of May, i need to take some time off. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN is in NYC for 2 weeks again this May. It is perfect timing. The people, spiritual energy, inspiration, motivation and love i feel there is exactly what i need. then maybe i'll go home again for a bit. Spend some summer sunshine with my nieces. and family. and trees. and me. ah, that will/would be nice. but the bills, they worry me. i hate that. thats what i mean about this society, this world. i cant have space for my self, i have to worry about that fucking green. i want so much to move beyond that. i just want to love. is that so much to ask for? what is wrong with our world when it is so difficult to just love. and i'm not talking so much, or just about this situation and/or me. but this world. we can barely smile at people without feeling strange. we dont dare mention the word love in a social setting. we need reasons like birthdays and beer to spend time with loved ones. and then we sit in front of computers and blah blah blah. whatever. i just need to write. to think, to formulate my thoughts and emotions and this is how and where it ended up. here it is, here i am. but i dont just want to be here. on this computer. black words on a white screen, or even blue words on a white screen. i want to be this person at every moment, in every glance, every smile, every word, every movement. I feel like i've become so much less. just hiding. just working. just shuffling around with the rest of the herd. another body. i dont want to be the center of attention. i just want to be the real me. i want to be honest
i want to love
to give
to care
to be the person that i dream of and havent yet dreamed of outside of the limitations, expectations, pressure and ugliness that are in this world.

maybe this is one way to do it. write. and move beyond writing and making lists and start doing and being.