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About this poet

A. Van Jordan was born on March 5, 1965, in Akron, Ohio. He received his BA in English literature from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and his MA in communications from Howard University in Washington, D.C. While in Washington, D.C., Jordan began to attend poetry readings and became interested in writing poetry. In 1998, he earned his MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.

Jordan has published four books of poetry: The Cineaste: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013); Quantum Lyrics (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007); M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and Rise (Tia Chucha Press, 2001), winner of the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award.

Jordan’s poetry is influenced by music, film, race, history, and pop culture. His most recent book, The Cineaste, marries his love of film with poetry in pieces that re-examine a wide range of seminal films such as Nosferatu (1922), The Homesteader (1919), Run Lola Run (1998), and Oldboy (2003) through the perspectives of both the voyeur and the character onscreen. In his review of The Cineaste, poet Terrance Hayes said, “With an imagination illuminated by empathy, Jordan inhabits the eye of the camera, the eye of the actor, and the ‘I’ of a viewer tethered to image and history. These terrific poems give shape to lives made of light.”

Jordan has been awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Lannan Literary Award, and the Whiting Writers' Award, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and United States Artists, among others. A professor of English and literature at the University of Michigan, he lives in Ann Arbor.


Bibliography

The Cineaste: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013)
Quantum Lyrics (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007)
M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005)
Rise (Tia Chucha Press, 2001)

Time Reviews The Ziegfeld Follies Featuring Josephine Baker, 1936

TIME REVIEW:

Before, we pictured her without diamonds,
Without sequined gowns and a face of paint.
We could see that this show was not the time
For a lithe St. Louis girl of her race
To flaunt her flanks in front of New York men.
How could she expect us to find applause,

When we had saved to throw coins of applause
To Fanny Brice1, our star, a diamond
On a stage of lights? Besides, what these men
Wanted was a dream well drawn beyond paint,
Not a life-size black doll flaunting her race
And wares as if this were her place and time.

Parisian and brown? This was not the time
For a poor Negro girl to find applause
When she had given up her one true race
America—for filthy France. Diamonds
Draped from her neck and ears, but even paint
Chips on the wrong surface. A street woman

Posing as a lady—please. Petty men
Could appreciate her dance, which was timed
To a beat of rags and old iron. Paint
The picture true, and let’s save the applause
For patriots—Eve Arden, a diamond,
And Bob Hope, a charm—not this girl with race

On her hips and tongue. The spice of race
Can be sweet or tart; the lips of the man
Who tastes will be surprised. To think diamonds
Will clear the palate is a waste of time.
Sure, we gave Princess Tam Tam2 an applause,
Even if she mumbled through songs and paint,

Even when she would cry and run her paint,
We listened. This is not about her race
But her choice of song, her need for applause
That would outshine Fanny Brice. Any man
Would give her a break, but the place and time
Was not this night. Yes, Brice was our diamond.

 

JOSEPHINE BAKER RESPONDS:

They want bananas on hips, not diamonds
On my décolletage. I’m under the paint,
Sinews dancing through segregated time;
It’s not all about jazz or even race.
Fanny Brice’s bland version of “My Man,”3
In smoke-filled bars couldn’t steal an applause,

So how do they think she deserves applause
On Broadway under lights and with diamonds
Dangling from her dewlap? I got a man,
He stays with me when I take off the paint,
And he doesn’t care about this whole race
Hoopla; he loves Josephine for me. Time

Magazine just started taking the time
To acknowledge Negroes, and now applause
From them is supposed to predict racial
Equality on stage? Talent? Diamonds
Determine my success. They can go paint
Broadway as white as they please, all the men

On the Champs will tell you I’m the woman
By which they measure others; only Time
Had a problem with my act, when the paint
Comes off, that’s all it comes down to: applause
From friends not foes. Just look at this diamond
On my hand from my Pepito4; does race

Refract in its eye, or light? You see race
is not real, only light and love; no man,
Negro or white, can change that. The diamond
Holds so much truth because it endures time;
It struggles through nothingness for applause;
It holds its breath, dark, naked without paint

Or the benefit of believing paint
Will change things because she is the same race
As coal underneath it all. And applause
Is just some dream. At times, even my man
Who, after all, is white, doesn’t see time
And again how I’m merely a diamond

Trying to catch some light under the paint. Man,
I’m telling you, race problems will change with time,
Long after applause and this diamond’s light fades.


Fanny Brice, the longtime star of the Ziegfeld Follies, was known for her talents as a comedienne as well as a singer.

Princess Tam Tam was a film starring Josephine Baker, produced in 1935.

“My Man” was a popular song written by Maurice Yvain as “Mon Homme.” Later, the English lyrics were written by Channing Pollock for the Ziegfeld Follies.

Pepito was Josephine Baker’s fiancé from 1935–1936. He died of cancer before she completed the run of the Ziegfeld Follies.

From M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A: Poems by A. Van Jordan. Copyright © 2004 by A. Van Jordan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

From M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A: Poems by A. Van Jordan. Copyright © 2004 by A. Van Jordan. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

A. Van Jordan

A. Van Jordan

A. Van Jordan has published four books of poetry: The Cineaste: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013); Quantum Lyrics (W. W. Norton & Company, 2007); M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and Rise (Tia Chucha Press, 2001), winner of the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award.

by this poet

poem
Because a razor cuts across a frame of film, 
I wince, squinting my eye, 
and because my day needs assembly 
to make sense of the scenes anyway, 
making a story from some pieces of truth, I go 
outside to gather those pieces.
Thousands of moments spooling out 
frames of mistakes in my day. 
As if anyone's to
poem
Prospero

Assume, just for a moment, 
I am denied a job
in the factory of my dreams
under the fluorescent lights
of a porcelain white foreman.

It’s orderly and neat.
I feed my family.
No one questions my face.
I raised my son in my likeness,
so he would never go unseen,

bobbing on a wave of expectation
2
poem

MacNolia Cox

in cho • ate (♥) adj. Only begun or entered upon; incipient. As when ribbons of light peer through inchoate air, before the thought of loss or love come into focus, as when the first glance of a stranger brushes over