Soldier: A Poet's Childhood

June Jordan, Author Basic Civitas Books $20 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-03681-3
Known for her fiery protest poems and her sensitive portrayals of children, poet and novelist Jordan (Naming Our Destiny) offers a fast-moving memoir of her early years. ""Born on the hottest day in Harlem"" to West Indian immigrants, Jordan was largely shaped by her ambitious and hardworking but sometimes abusive father: she would be his ""sturdy, brilliant soldier, or he would, well, beat me to death."" When Jordan turned five, in 1941, the family moved to Brooklyn; shortly thereafter she became a pugnacious, sociable child, shuttling among fantasies, friends and teachers, and the unstable expectations of her home life. Remarkable passages cover Jordan's youthful obsession with cowboy heroes, ""deep-sea fishing"" with her protective father and early experiences with religion. Jordan (a professor of African-American Studies at UC-Berkeley) has selected a bitty, broken-up format: single paragraphs, sentences, anecdotes and prose sketches succeed one another as if in a photo album or a book of short poems. (Sometimes Jordan even breaks into verse.) This can make her work scattered or sketchy; it can also imbue single incidents or memories with remarkable resonance. At her best, Jordan writes as if for oral delivery: Jodi, her best friend at summer camp, ""had tiger eyes and a lion's mane for hair and she chewed gum so that it cracked near her chipped front tooth and her skin turned the same color as my own skin from the sun."" Jordan could easily have written a tear-jerking story of trauma and recovery, or a densely sociological document. Instead, she weaves early disasters, delights and difficulties into a thoughtful, often cheerful tale about the girl she was--one who found herself (as a chapter title has it) constantly ""choosing and being chosen, fighting and fighting back."" Agent, Gloria Loomis. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Prebound-Glued - 288 pages - 978-0-613-34957-4
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-465-03682-0
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-7867-3137-4
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