Ruth Sutoyé on June Jordan
The Poem After The Detonating Body Confirmed
by Ruth Sutoyé
after June Jordan
'Is this the way death wins its way against all longing and redemptive thrust from grief?' – June Jordan
Chest rises and falls like memorised song verses
but all staccato,
the wailing begins here.
First-born of all tales is that woman’s womb is an offering basket,
God’s given mandate to multiply and go forth.
First-born of all tales.
Woman – finicky definition to produce an abundance of generations from self.
What a wielding power to covet.
Non-cancerous tumours they say.
Inflamed they say.
Ruptured above uterus detonated, they should say.
Three years only to wield your power they say.
Cut flesh, bruise flesh, burn flesh, failing body.
Chest rises and falls, breathing in descending arpeggio.
Time and I were companions,
are now shadows (tracing each other).
Head buried and reburied on each day,
Hope is scheming her return, knowing she is out-powered.
I feel Agony growing new head-legs in my pain buds,
I stop fighting (for space).
‘Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth. To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that's political, in its most profound way’ - June Jordan
A fellow Cancerian, June Millicent Jordan was born July 9th 1936 in Harlem, New York City to Jamaican immigrant parents and died June 14th 2002. She was a bisexual poet, journalist, academic, playwright and political activist.
Jordan was an extensively published and lauded writer, with a celebrated career that produced 27 volumes of poems, essays, libretti and works for children. She served as a radically influential voice that lived and wrote on the frontlines of American poetry, international political solidarity/critique and human rights. Fiercely committed and engaged with the struggles of her period (many still relevant to present day), Jordan fought fiercely for feminist and women’s rights, civil rights, anti-war, gay and lesbian rights and more.
Her work is often known for its deeply autobiographical nature, investment in identity and accessibility in language. Jordan felt passionately about using (vernacular) Black English as a legitimate and credible form to express her culture and not only encouraged her Black students to do the same, but went lengths to preserve Black English, evidenced in her work.
As a key figure in social, artistic and political spaces, Jordan taught in many universities within the United States, including Yale and University of California-Berkley, the university where she founded Poetry for the People.
‘The first function of poetry is to tell the truth, to learn how to do that, to find out what you really feel and what you really think’ - June Jordan
Ruth Sutoyé resurrected June Jordan at the National Poetry Library on 6 November 2019. Listen to the event in its entirety, podcasted here.