Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Instead of poetry; and briefly, Peter Reading, Miroslav Holub

Should this wonderful weather cheer us up in hard times, or make us worry about climate change?  Or both.  I hope it’s cheering those who’ve gone on marches today.  To avoid being made despondent again, don’t read Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on the Chancellor’s Autumn statement… or Martin Wolf in the FT.  Or this, again in the Guardian, by Naomi Wolf about why the US response to Occupy protests has been so vicious.  You may have read them already, in which case this warning is too late.  (I wonder how many readers of this blog read the FT?  I used to read it daily, the European edition, for work - its foreign reporting was really good.) 

Chartist inspired general strike, 1842
Not that the weather’s wonderful everywhere, of course - dire warnings of Scottish west coast gales, though that just makes me want to be there, except not on a fishing boat.  Someone has been reading this blog from Ethiopia in the last couple of days - I’d love to know who.  In the capital, it’s 21 degrees or so, and sunny.  But Ethiopia has mountains and deserts too, so Addis Ababa's probably even more unrepresentative than London is of the UK. 

This BBC graphic is good for trying to disentangle the web of world debt - includes fundamental stuff such as debt ratios, and who owes how much to whom.  And here’s a Guardian piece questioning the assumption that continuous economic growth is indispensable.  I still remember the moment I first thought of asking Why Growth: nearly 20 years ago.  Why did it take me so long?  I tried it out on the nearest friend, who happened to be an FT correspondent… 

And here’s a great quote on the Euro crisis, from a speech by Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister.  "I will probably be first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity."  (I think it would have been quite safe to leave out the ‘probably’.)

All this is by way of saying, today doesn’t feel like a day for poetry: the discourse of other things has taken over.  Not that it should be a zero sum game, but today it feels like that.  I’ve already blogged about the difficulty of writing political poetry in these times. 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I feel I should be writing something about Peter Reading, as he’s just died - and in such times.  I can’t because I hardly know his work - have only read a few poems, which have left the impression of knotty contrariness, bitter satire, a vast language range and great skill with form.  The best thing I’ve read about him in the last week or so is the Bloodaxe blog - includes a brief biog, a great para describing the essence of his work, links to obits, some critics’ quotes, and recordings of him reading.  So I’m going to start from there, having left it too late…  I don’t even know if I’ll like all his poems.  There are a few online at the TLS, including a lovely Ovidian one. 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Back to instead-of-poetry, sort of.  Miroslav Holub, Czechoslovak poet-scientist, can have the last word:

There is poetry in everything.  That
is the biggest argument
against poetry. 

Later on, in the same poem, ‘The Root of the Matter’,

The root of the matter is not
in the matter itself and often
in our hands

In case that sounds a bit heavy, these in-italics lines are snatched from their not-in-italics context, which is about Faust going for a crazy walk:

he takes the grey road past the cement works,
he takes the red road past the slaughter house,
he takes the blue road past the lake,
he takes the banned road past the council offices..

One more quote from that poem:

Nothing has happened but we
always saw it coming.

Holub translation by Ian Milner and George Theiner, Penguin Modern European Poets.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

New Poetries V: Carcanet Anthology

I’ve been reading this book with a real sense of excitement.  The first thing I read was the first poem, ‘This is Yarrow’ by Tara Bergin. 

In this country house I had a dream of the city
as if the thick yarrow heads had told me,
as if the chokered dove had told me,
or the yellow elder seeds had made me ask -
and in the dream I went up to the dirty bus station
and I saw the black side of the power station…

I find the syntax and cadences, the language and repetition, the exact description very beautiful and original.  Quoting just over half the poem feels like a violent act but I shouldn’t quote it all... 

It’s the originality that’s exciting.  Not many poetry magazines offer that, at least not in the UK.  This poem first appeared in Poetry London, which does; and what most (all?) of the poets in the anthology have in common is that they have appeared in PN Review, which also does.  Many of the poets are adventurous with their inheritance of poetry; with form, language, syntax, imagery.  In the preface to the anthology, PNR editor Michael Schmidt says that editors (the ones like him, presumably) hope:

To be surprised by the shape on the page, by syntax, by the unexpected sounds a poem makes, sometimes with old, proven instruments used in new ways.  They might hope to find evidence of intelligence.  And they respect creative disobedience. 

The concept of this anthology is good.  Twenty-two new poets get around ten pages each - less than half a pamphlet, but enough to show a range of work - and a short paragraph to talk about their approach.  They are all ages, and from various countries.  The entries are very varied.  This is from William Letford’s short poem ‘Taking a headbutt’: 

blood-metal darkness and the taste of brass
the bell was rung
i know i went somewhere
because i had to come back

Now I feel I know what it’s like from these vivid, notebook-like lines.  I have fainted (once) and it felt exactly like the last two lines.  I devoured Letford’s poems.  One is called ‘Moths’.  At its beginning and end, the word ‘moths’ is scattered over the page like moth-holes, or moths.  Part of the middle goes:

wardrobe     under the bed   i don’t know
heads full of light bulbs      and moons          erratic
fucking moths

Jan Kofi-Tsekpo’s fluid poems are elusive, but stay in the mind.  She uses imagery that often has biblical / mythical resonance, mixed with plain idiomatic expressions.  [I should say here, in accordance with this blog’s reviewing policy, that I know Jan.]  This is the beginning of ‘Water’, the first of four poems after paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer:

A thousand fish found stranded in the middle
of a market town have had better days.

Hooked and gutted and sliding over
each other in barrels, they have the eyes

of humans who secretly worship nothing. 

These fish look and feel more real than in the painting, which I’ve just looked up online.  The description made me think of feeding the five thousand; then at the end of the poem a man says he knows nothing about what’s going on...  

‘Eldridge Street’ is the last in a sequence of poems all with long, rolling lines.  It ends:

The four-poster bed is empty and sullen, sagging with mixed fortune,
the father’s escape from civil war, the mother working as a seamstress,
          he pulling her towards him, a hot convenience.  Nothing’s moved.
Embroidered sheets wear a layer of dust grey as the night waves.
          It won’t happen now, I say, the moment has passed. 

The sequence mixes personal relations with history, politics and sense of place to tell, from different perspectives, something like a story that has great scope and resonance despite its fragmentary and unreliable nature. 

Here is the first part of Katharine Kilalea’s ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’:

I stood at the station
like the pages of a book
whose words suddenly start to swim.

Wow.  The rain.  Rose beetles. 

Formal lines of broad-leaved
deciduous trees
ran the length of the platform.

Ickira trecketre stedenthal, said the train.
Slow down please, said the road.
Sometimes you get lucky, said the estate agent
        onto his mobile phone,
it all depends on the seller.

Dear Circus,
Past the thicket, through the window,
the painèd months are coming for us -

See the bluff, the headland, announcing
the presence of water.
See the moths…

The trees walk backwards into the dark. 

I could type the whole of it out, several pages, just for the pleasure of going through it slowly.  Is it expected to make me think of Eliot, especially ‘The Waste Land’?  It does, all through: the sense of placelessness, the going-off at tangents, the different voices and registers, bits of nonsense, the obscure references, something ancient (sometimes iambic) about the language and rhythms. 

At the same time the poem is entirely fresh and itself; lacks any Eliot portentousness and seems to be having fun.  (One line reads: “He wore a gold vagina on his chest.”)  It draws me in to just read it, in the spirit of the first three lines or negative capability; to be taken somewhere but I don’t know where.  Kilalea herself suggests listening to it with “a kind of floating ear”.  I have just found a very good commentary on thepoem by Don Share at the Carcanet blog.  He thinks of Eliot too.  You can read the whole poem there.  The blog also has commentaries by the anthologised poets on each others’ poems.

New Poetries V is edited by Michael Schmidt and Eleanor Crawforth, and published by Carcanet.  Other contributors I’m enjoying include Arto Vaun, Mina Gorji and Julith Jedamus.   There’s a lot to absorb. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival II: Robert Hass (again), Kay Ryan, etc

This will be shorter than the last post. 

Long ago, Robert Hass was having a conversation with Miłosz who was showing him some political poems.  Hass was commenting on them reluctantly, maybe not thinking they were that good, so Miłosz said something like this:

Sometimes it is better to be ashamed than silent.

Robert Hass [photo credits at end]
Hass said he’d learnt from Miłosz how to face the issues, write about them. Remembering that, it’s all the more shocking to find he’s been facing them physically too, since Aldeburgh.  Here is a clip that shows Hass being shoved around by police at a Berkeley protest.  A few days earlier, he’d told us how Miłosz had learnt English from Blake’s Songs of Innocence & Experience, which he stole in Nazi-occupied Warsaw while being forced to move libraries around. Taking cover while an escaped prisoner was being pursued and shot and the cobblestones were all up-ending, Miłosz thought: The Waste Land (another of his primers) just wouldn’t do. 

Hass/Miłosz wasn’t all seriousness… Hass once found a second-hand book, in Polish, on underwear - all the names and types.  He gave it to CM, by then a grand old man and Nobel winner, and it made him so happy…  I think it was at this point that Hass became tearful.  Or maybe it was when he talked about how Miłosz was driven by his need to recover reality through writing poetry, and the impossibility of this.  

No tears from Kay Ryan, and she made us all laugh, often; but there was loss and anguish below the surface.  She read her narrow poems like climbing nimbly down a ladder, or up; whichever way, gravity is with the listener/reader...  And she talked - drawn out very nicely by interviewer Naomi Jaffa.  I think the best thing she said was (approximately) this:

A poem never makes you feel heavier... it makes your parts feel further away from each other... gravity doesn’t have to weigh us down.

Hopkins and Dickinson were early passions/influences, but the first was her one-room-schooled grandmother who would recite poems by heart.  Ryan was thrilled by Dickinson’s off-rhymes, and by her taking the mind as her subject. 

Why that Ryan-poem shape?  It’s like only liking crusts; narrow lines please her. As for length: short poems slow the reader down, make every word matter.  No fat no slop.  When she started writing, one couldn’t rhyme, so she chose mid-line rhymes.  She tries to be very plain in syntax and argument, in order to help the line breaks and make the meaning clear.

There’s plenty that’s unclear [in the world], I like to clear the pool as much as possible.  

Kay Ryan
In a packed room she did a close reading of a poem by Stevie Smith, whose terrible rhymes and adoration of pratfalls she loves; plus an ability to treat profound things with despatch.  And SS wrote to please herself: “I was never in rooms like this, co-operating”, Ryan said.  It is, she told us, an immense undertaking to get to the end of a poem. 

The Young Poets’ reading, with Emily Berry, Hannah Lowe, Helen Mort and Sam Riviere was excellent and attracted a big audience.  I already love Hannah’s poems so it was great to hear them in the Jubilee Hall.  A long poem by Helen Mort especially struck me, about the re-enactment of one episode in the miners’ strikes of the 80’s.  It would be good if Aldeburgh invited more younger poets who’d bring their audience… the current audience isn’t as young, or as multi-cultural, as it could be.  Especially the latter. 

3 new poets, Jocelyn Page, Luke Yates and I, got our Aldeburgh on-stage moment in the Masterclass.  How often does anyone get the chance to workshop a new poem in front of 100+ people?  It sounds nervewracking, but it’s hard to be nervous within 5 yards of Michael Laskey, our chairman, or Jane Draycott, whose combination of wide-and-deep intelligence with niceness was just right for her role as workshop leader. Also, those directors’ chairs they use at the Festival were amazingly comfortable.  And I had confidence in Jocelyn, Luke, all three poems and, once things started, in the audience, whose comments were excellent.  Last but not least: The Rialto, who sponsor the Masterclass, have asked us each to provide a before-and-after poem plus comments on the process, for the next issue.    

To end, here’s an Aldeburgh Moment: Michael Laskey introducing Kay Ryan on that Stevie Smith poem - called, he said, ‘The Jungle Wife’.  “It’s ‘The Jungle Husband’.. Freudian slip!” muttered the audience, rustling their copies.  Michael: “You’re all such good readers”.  

HappenStance and Magnetickidliv have both posted on the Festival in the last few days. 

Photo credits: the three Festival photos are by Peter Everard Smith, via the Poetry Trust.  

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival I: the 21st century and other things

One advantage of shorter days: you can see the moon better.  Late on Friday afternoon it was nearly full and hanging over the sea, making a wide patch of light on the water.  Perhaps George Orwell, who lived up the coast in Southwold for a while, found the name of his perfect pub while looking at the North Sea.  The Moon under Water. 

What will I remember about this festival?  That moon.  The Americans: Aldeburgh always chooses them brilliantly.  Robert Hass, a poetry giant in his range and erudition, and the astonishing and witty Kay Ryan whose book Odd Blocks has just come out here.  They were both - in totally different ways - wonderful readers and illuminating, funny, shrewd commentators.  The Aldeburgh Moments, several of which had to do with on-stage tears, but tears in a good way.  The brown, strangely warm sea.  The lost dog.  The damp land.  A long walk northwards with friends in Monday’s howling gale.  The encounters: people I hadn’t seen for a while, people I’d never met, people I’d met but not enough.  At least one new friend, I hope.  

Secret of Festival poster revealed
The Masterclass because I was in it, on stage in the Jubilee Hall!  The strong poetry-in-translation dimension: Jordanian, Albanian, middle English, haiku, Miłosz.  The stand-out readings: Jane Draycott, Fleur Adcock, the Americans (see above), the Young Poets.  (Things you think I shouldn’t have missed out, I may not have gone to: one can’t do everything.  Biggest regret on that front: missing the Scottish Islands reading, and Albanian Luljeta Lleshanaku’s interview.)  The indeterminate, faint roar of the sea at night, when I couldn’t sleep because I was over-excited. 

There should be a photo of that moon, but I forgot my camera until Monday morning.  My mobile phone is old and doesn’t do photos.  That, and the snail-like speed/agility of this blog (every other Aldeburgh blogger has already posted, according to the Poetry Trust on Facebook) probably means I am not a fully 21st century person. 

I do google stuff for poems - does anyone not do that?  Knowledge at the tip of your fingers, as Christian Campbell said in Saturday’s discussion on the 21st century poem.  He wondered if Fleur Adcock had googled to support her interest in arthropods, which she’d shared with us in an absolutely lovely Friday evening reading.  (Are some poets more like their poems than others?  Fleur Adcock is like her poems.)  He introduced the concept of the mutant cyborg poem - cyborg = the internet; mutant = seeing the world differently after 9/11, Obama, Arab Spring etc.  I think this is a good concept. Many poems by younger writers, at least Brits and Americans, have an eclectic quality, throwing in lots of stuff from everywhere, and giving out disorientation.  When they work, maybe this is one way of avoiding the risk raised by a man in a Close Reading audience, that the speed of 21st century images and communication could kill the imagination; he cited the old joke about someone saying wireless (yes, wireless) was preferable to TV because the pictures were better.  

Campbell’s Friday evening reading was lovely too, especially ‘Dover to Accra’ with a Dover Beach that isn’t that at all...  It became an Aldeburgh talked-about poem.  Back to the 21st C discussion in which Campbell, who’s from the Bahamas, said he doesn’t feel inhibited about drawing from any tradition for his work.  Luljeta Lleshanaku had been to a conference in Dubai, of all places, where she’d heard lots of good poems but one could have read them anywhere.  (This does not apply to Haywire, her book, which I’m looking forward to partly as it is not like anything else I’ve ever read.)  She wondered if there would still be national literatures in 50 years’ time.  Robert Hass said yes, because language is irreducible and a poem will always be local because of how it says things; and poetry has always been international, even if slower when under sail.  I’m with Campbell and Hass on this.  Where you come from and what language you speak is always going to matter.    

Hass came up with some wonderful stuff in that discussion (and all weekend: Aldeburgh works its top guests hard).  He said Tomas Tranströmer once described poems as notes that kids pass each other in class, while the history teacher is boring on from the podium.  He said in the early 20th century, the Russian Revolution seemed like world change but poets like Hardy could still write about nature as a constant, beyond all politics: how does ‘nature being over’ affect how we write?  He said poetry had to escape its century.  Given the corporate grip on media etc, poetry needs to conform to Gary Snyder’s definition of it as “very high quality information”.  It needs to resist the grain of things, and find out what’s true in everyday life. 

My paraphrasing of Hass may sound flat.  I found him inspiring, in the old sense of the word (ie nothing to do with corporate motivation-speak - what irony that would be!) and others did too.  His mind moves without effort like Yeats’ long-legged fly, linking ideas together.  He’s also got a store of anecdotes and he made us all laugh.  This one’s about the Chinese poet and the American poet.  They exchange poems using translation software, which translates a Chinese line as “the afternoon was the colour of a shoe factory”.  Actually the afternoon was the colour of worked leather, but it takes the two of them time to work this out across half the world. 

I’m still wondering how a worked-leather sky would look.  Brownish-pink?  Not like the sky in Aldeburgh, which apart from Friday was a misty, indeterminate pale grey, full of damp.  And the sea was its usual Suffolk brown with undertones of grey.  I love that: bright brown shingle, dull brown sea (but at the same time not dull, because the light’s on it, however dim), grey sky.  The sea was, astonishingly, warmish to the touch still.  Festival founding father Michael Laskey stopped swimming two weeks ago, but said the Swiss festival regulars had swum.  Swiss regulars, if you’re out there, I’d love to hear what it was like!  Some of us took our bathing things but there was no time, and then on Monday morning when there was time the waves were far too rough. 

The weekend threw up sound bites, prose and poetry.  Amjad Nasser’s prose poem ‘The Phases of the Moon in London’, which he read in Arabic, became a talked-about poem.  It starts:

She and I were talking about the weather, the rusty key that opens conversations here in London.

Jane Draycott had this for us on what a translator does, from Macedonian poet Zoran Anchevski’s ‘Translation’, translated by Sudeep Sen:

I sleep on a pillow
of someone else’s dreams.

A translator should love what he or she is translating, she said.  Her love for Pearl shines through her translation of it, and she gave one of the most beautiful readings at the festival.  At one point (not during Pearl) I realised I was taking in the words just as sounds.  Later I compared notes with Michael Laskey (in his natural environment, helping with the washing up in the Poets’ House) and he said the same thing had happened to him.  By the way, Pearl always sells out at readings, so if you go to one, learn from my mistake and get in quick!

Hass described his experience of visiting Czesław Miłosz every Monday to translate his poems as “like being alive twice”.  They’d try to discover the colour of the banks on the Lithuanian river where his grandparents lived, or the name of the amusement park ride from which people in Warsaw could see, in 1943, over the walls of the ghetto as the Jews were being rounded up for deportation.  It was chairs on chains, and someone in the audience had a name for it.  Flying chairs I think.  Did this chill everyone’s blood?  There was, fittingly, a lot of 20th century in this 21st century weekend. 

At the end of that 21st century discussion, Fleur Adcock delivered an Aldeburgh Moment.  As she quoted James Elroy Flecker’s ‘To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence’, she was in tears… and at the same time laughing at herself in tears... so we all did too, possibly both.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.

Now I’m going to read everyone else who’s written about Aldeburgh - Baroque in Hackney and Sonofabook (see links on right), Charles Christian, Olivia Fairweather, Kate Noakes.  The Poetry Trust’s put lots of blog links and photos on Facebook.

Another time I’m going to write about Kay Ryan, Robert Hass again and the amazing Masterclass experience.  And other things. 

Everything as always was perfectly organised by a nano-team, who stayed unflappable and friendly all through.  Maggie Menzies, Katie Burroughs, Dean Parkin, Mary Smyth, Naomi Jaffa, plus volunteers.  Thank you, all of you.  How do you do it? 

One more quote, last of the Festival, from Poetry Trust director Naomi:


You can be sure there was wild applause for that.  I expect the Arts Council could hear it in London.  

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

June Jordan: following a sonnet

It’s enjoyably disorienting to read a poem for the first time, get excited about it, and have no idea where it came from.  I found June Jordan’s ’Sunflower Sonnet Number Two’ in The Making of a Sonnet, the Norton sonnet anthology.  It begins:

Supposing we could just go on and on as two
voracious in the days apart as well as when
we side by side (the many ways we do
that) well!

The weird, urgent syntax - which continues throughout the poem - and the smooth language combine to make the sonnet coil round itself, voluptuously like the lovers.  I hadn’t read anything quite like it.  The whole poem can be read here

I followed the trail to the Poetry Library, hoping the sonnet might be part of a sequence.  There are only two, and ‘Sunflower Sonnet Number One’ lacks the concentrated force of its pair.  Instead I found a poet who was best known for her political activism. 

June Jordan was born in New York in the thirties, to Jamaican parents.  She was, among other things, a poet, essayist, teacher and fearless activist who was an influential participant, from the late sixties, in the growing movements for black civil rights, women’s rights and peace.  According to her 2002 obituary in the Guardian, she’s most famous for her pioneering political essays, for example championing the use of black English in education 30 years before this became a mainstream cause.  There’s more about her life in the obit and on the Poetry Foundation website

I’ve now got two of Jordan’s books, Haruko / Love Poems and Lyrical Campaigns, both available second-hand.  Many of her poems are political, campaigning poems; others are love poems.  What holds together the diverse subject matter is a sense of a powerful personality needing to get strong feelings out onto the page; her collected poems are called Directed by Desire.  (Maybe I’m reading the life into the work; but for a poet who was primarily political, maybe that’s fair enough.)  The best poems have the vivid immediacy of the sonnet, but almost always without its tightness of form.  In others, campaigning overwhelms the poetry, and the reader may feel the poet has designs upon her.  I’d love to be able to ask Jordan why she didn’t write more poems in strict form, which seems to discipline and strengthen her subject matter, as in the opening couplets of ‘Ghazal at Full Moon’:

I try to describe how this aching begins or how it began
with an obsolete coin and the obsolete head of an obsolete 

Holding the nickel I beheld a buffalo I beheld the silver face
of a man who might be your father: A dead man: An Indian. 

Was it because she felt free verse was right for love and politics?  Or because there was work to do in the real world and what mattered was getting the poems onto the page, however they came out?

Some poems combine her two themes, such as ‘Roman Poem Number Fourteen’:

look the ashes from the bones turn brown
look the mushroom hides the town
look the general wears his drip dry red
drip gown

o my lover nakedly
believe my love

The deft use of syntax is often apparent and contributes to a forthright, fierce and intense tone.  Here is an extract, and then the ending, from ‘What Would I Do White?’

I would disturb the streets by
passing by so pretty kids
on stolen petty cash would look
at me like foreign
writing in the sky
I would do nothing.
That would be enough. 

I like the doubt over where ‘pretty’ belongs, and its closeness to ‘petty’.  The dryness and humour of the ending is also present in some short, epigrammatic poems.  ‘Onesided Dialog’ (6 lines) ends:

You’re wrong.  It’s not that I gave away my keys.
The problem is nobody wants to steal me or my house.

Jordan is not afraid of drastic changes of rhythm, as in ‘March Song’, which surely could be put to music.  Like many of the poems, this opens up wide vistas from a narrow starting-point. 

Snow knuckles melted to pearls
of black water
Face like a landslide of stars
in the dark

I’m standing in place
I’m holding your hand
and pieces of children
on patches of sand

Some poems remind me of Frank O’Hara in their capture of everydayness, often using the rhythms and speech of black English as in ‘1977: Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer’:

I remember finding you inside the laundromat  
in Ruleville  
                  lion spine relaxed/hell  
                  what’s the point to courage  
                  when you washin clothes?  

But that took courage

                  just to sit there/target  
                  to the killers lookin  
                  for your singin face  
                  perspirey through the rinse  
                  and spin

and later  
you stood mighty in the door on James Street  
loud callin:

                  “BULLETS OR NO BULLETS!  
                  THE FOOD IS COOKED  
                  AN’ GETTIN COLD!”

The Poetry Foundation website contains polarised views on Jordan.  Adrienne Rich says: “Her poetic sensibility was kindred to Blake’s scrutiny of innocence and experience; to Whitman’s vision of sexual and social breadth; to Gwendolyn Brooks’s and Romare Bearden’s portrayals of ordinary black people’s lives; to James Baldwin’s expression of the bitter contradictions within the republic.” Dan Chiasson, from a much younger generation, says in a wholly negative review: “Hates, loves, power, tenderness: Jordan’s binaries banish all the recombinant effects of actual reality…. The love poems here light the candles and put the soft slow music on, but Jordan’s virtuous politics still set the mood.”

Maybe it’s the fate of a political poet to get hijacked.  Rich describes Jordan only at her best as a poet; Chiasson only at her worst.  Shouldn’t poets be judged on their best work?    Anyway it seems fitting to write about June Jordan against the background of today’s political activism, around St Paul’s and elsewhere, which isn’t, so far as I know, finding much of an echo in poetry.