Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reading June Jordan's "Poem about My Rights"

Every now and then, as I did yesterday, I get a chance during a semester to read June Jordan's "Poem about My Rights" for my class. The students see the long poem, and no one ever volunteers to read the entire piece in class. So I'm always ready and willing to read it out loud.

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

No comments: