June Jordan’s Haruko/Love Poems aches, the language flurrying off of the pages in its need to be read. Jordan makes no attempt to conform her subject matter to shamed silence: her poetry is queer, her poetry is black, her poetry is woman, and it does not hide. Haruko/Love Poems is a collection of over twenty years of Jordan’s journey through numerous paths of love and heartbreak, capitalized upon by her self-awareness and her open, urgent narrative style.
“Haruko” is featured heavily in the first section of the book, as Jordan experiences that sharp pain of breakup with a dear lover. Perhaps we would expect that as the name “Haruko” is featured in the title, that the whole collection would be centered upon the theme of said woman. But we find that this is not the case: Jordan does not just write “love poems” in reference to “Haruko.” As Jordan heals, she reflects on love of women, men, nature, strangers, and self. Jordan describes a tree that looks like a skeleton “longing for the sky,” which we first may interpret to refer to her longing for Haruko’s love. Again and again in the book we see repetition of a desperate reaching for love: “believe my love / believe / believe it,” “be- / cause what I wanted was / your love / your love.” Jordan often leaves pronouns unclear, allowing readers to interpret at they may. Is her love a person? A people? Herself? Jordan draws so many different narratives of love across this collection that it would be difficult to assign any one interpretation. However, some types of love only become apparent as haruko/love poems unravels, and self-love is one such form. Amidst the all-engulfing fervor of haruko/love poems, “Free Flight” takes the narrative into an intense realization of self. Jordan describes how she will try to fill herself with food but never buys for herself the foods that she truly loves, and takes us into a whirlwind of the things she seems to be trying to satisfy herself with to find emotional rest. Finally, seemingly to let out a huge breath that haruko/love poems has been sucking in, Jordan writes: “maybe I just need to love myself myself and / anyway / I’m working on it.”
Haruko/love poems loves to pair: the sensory and the philosophical, nature and the self, city and self, and identity and relationships are just a few of these pairings. Jordan weaves her sexuality in as another pairing: love women, and love of men. Bisexuality/queerness is a rare theme to see so frankly and beautifully displayed in a work of literature, with such justice done. Jordan does not focus on her coming-out process or define her identity narrative by the reactions of others. Queerness is presented as part of the many different dialogues that Jordan weaves, and is often presented in an incidental manner. Jordan also does not pit her sexuality against itself: there is no “men vs. women,” if you will, a theme that is often present in straight-gaze queer writing. Only once does Jordan present this theme, but she seems to mock the “torn” stereotype of bisexuality. She opens consecutive stanzas with “maybe I need a woman” and then “maybe I need a man,” but then continues on to end each of the two stanzas with the same three lines. Jordan seems to imply that despite the pressure of gender stereotypes and how they interact with relationships, personhood is what truly matters.
June Jordan’s presentation and following dismissal of stereotyped ideas of love and what fulfills us create numerous unexpected themes that Haruko/Love Poems offers to us. The narrative is never truly apathetic: June’s passionate blazes through even during periods of attempted apathy. As part of this passion, Haruko/Love Poems is a work that is dedicatedly self-reflective. Readers will find that (as is the nature of being human) they will discover constantly discover new things in Haruko/Love Poems, both as they reflect and as they further transgress.
Reviewed by: Gabriella Basile