Jordan's poem is about her being a survivor of rape. And with Jordan displaying several free associations, the poem is also about troubling laws that prevent a woman from doing "what I want / to do with my own body." It's a poem about a black woman being "the wrong / sex the wrong age the wrong skin." It's a poem about "South Africa / penetrating into Namibia penetrating into / Angola." It's a poem about resistance and much more.
Reading the poem out loud prompts an empowering feeling, like I'm channeling Jordan's fierce spirit. Or, it's like I'm performing some Trane-like solo, taking an audience along with me as the piece carries us.
I first became aware of Jordan's "Poem about My Rights" during the late 1990s. I was taking a poetry class at New York University, where I was an exchange student for a semester. The poem wasn't assigned for the course; I just happened to "discover" it in the course anthology. I first read the poem to myself and then read it out loud to a friend. She and I then spread it on to other friends and then more friends.
I don't always manage to fit the poem into a semester, but when I do, I'm always pleased. I'm also surprised that I haven't included it more given how it stays with me after I read it out loud with my students. By the time I reach the end of the poem, there's time and reason to read the last 5 defiant lines a little slower and deliberately:
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
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