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Thursday, June 13, 2024

POETRY FOR THE PEOPLE: The June Jordan Experience

Not to boast, but I have rarely been at a loss for words when recounting an experience or incident in my life. However, according to the pundits. “There’s a first time for everything.” Well that was proven true for me with my viewing of the theatrical performance piece, “POETRY FOR THE PEOPLE: The June Jordan Story, adapted for the stage by her longtime collaborator Adrienne Torf and director Raymond O.Caldwell and featuring music by Ms. Torf, Sweet Honey in the Rock and John Adams. This was a production of the Theater Alliance and was presented att the Anacostia Arts Center in Southeast DC (Ward 8).

The first element that was distinctive was the venue–not a theatrical stage, but rather a library reading room that presented an intimate, in your face environment that remarkably enhanced the experience and impact of Ms Jordan’s work. The staging area (that was less than a yard from the audience) included Ms.Torf on piano, three moveable, approximately 5 1/2 ft. columns that prov-ided electronic visual images of Ms. Jordan being interviewed and other images depicting texts of her work and songs that accompanied them and six chairs that were moved about. Each of the 6 performers (Sophia Early, Ezinne Elele, Natalia Fyfe, Ixchel Hernandez, Juana Oshuro and Llogan Paige) exhibited a thrilling command of the dramatic material and exquisitely rendered the evocative and stirring musical selections. Their singing was stirring, emotionally stimulating and as close to being ethereal that I have ever heard..

All of these elements of the performance emphasized the visionary power, strength and exhil-arating humanity of this profoundly gifted and fascinating woman. In her career she was a prolific writer with over 27 volumes of poems, essays, liretti, social and political commentary and work for children. She taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities including Yale, State University of New York-Stony Brook and the University of California-Berkeley, where she founded Poetry for the People in l991. Its purpose was to empower students to use poetry to explore and better understand oppressive and degrading elements they encounter.

June Jordan was a fascinating woman who defiantly and purposely addressed the ills and injustices she saw in the world. This collaboration by Ms.Torf and Mr.Caldwell boldly attempts to capture the essence of her intention. I am definitely not at a loss for words and can boldly proclaim that they have succeeded and that Ms..Jordan is smiling from Heaven and blesses their homage and honor to her.


“POETRY FOR THE PEOPLE: The June Jordan Story” is triumphant for all the gifted and visionary artists who brought it to life!

The show continues performances as follows:

  • NE June 6-9 – Dance Place
  • SW June 13-16 – Culture House
  • NW June 20-23 – Dupont Circle Underground

Michael Sainte-Andress is the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s Arts & Culture Critic.

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