Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Jordan, June (1936–2002)
Author:
Folsom, Ed
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The poet and essayist June Jordan is part of the generation of powerful black feminist voices that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. With the publication of Some Changes in 1971, it was clear that Jordan's passionate, committed, conversational, jazzy poetry owed something to Whitman, probably via Langston Hughes. The Whitman connection was made clearer in Passion (1980), a book of poems written in the 1970s and prefaced by Jordan's important essay called "For the Sake of a People's Poetry: Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us." Here Jordan offers a revisionist reading of Whitman as "the one white father who shares the systematic disadvantages of his heterogeneous offspring" (Passion x), the one "white father" who could effectively serve as a model for the diverse and marginalized poets who arose to challenge the canonical status quo.

Jordan proclaims her own descent from Whitman—"I too am a descendant of Walt Whitman" (Passion xxiv)—and assigns "Black and Third World poets" the central place "within the Whitman tradition," a tradition she defines as one promulgating an "egalitarian sensibility" (Passion xv). Just as Hughes echoed Whitman when he wrote "I, too, sing America" (Hughes 46), so Jordan echoes Hughes as well as Whitman as she unites black, feminist, and other marginalized voices in saying "we, too, go on singing this America" (Passion xxvi). Her spirited assessment is an important document in casting Whitman as the poet of radical democracy who celebrates America's diversities.

Bibliography

Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Jordan, June. Civil Wars: Selected Essays, 1964–1980. Boston: Beacon, 1981.

———. Passion: New Poems, 1977–1980. Boston: Beacon, 1980.


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