Physics of Race: A. Van Jordan
Paula Hayes takes on the racial underlayment in Van Jordan’s poetry in her essay, “Letting Science Tell the Story”.
Contemporary African American poet, A. Van Jordan, in his third collection of poems, Quantum Lyrics (2007), pursues matters of race by turning to the cultural history of science. As readers, we are swept into a labyrinth of science, physics, and mathematics, and in the very next breath we are met with science fiction, film and music. Unlikely and surprising characters, like Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and Richard Feynman, walk beside DC Comics superheroes, Flash, the Atom, and the Green Lantern, as historical truth, subjective truth, and popular culture traverse the boundaries of time and space. Holding together such a diverse range of ideas is Van Jordan’s use of the montage.
Van Jordan positions his “Quantum Lyrics Montage,” a subset within the larger work of Quantum Lyrics, into a rich history of African American modernism; we may think, here, of Langston Hughes’s The Montage of a Dream Deferred, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, and the writings of Melvin Tolson and Amiri Baraka. In part because of the expansiveness of the form, the montage becomes a poetic tool for deconstructing American narratives on race and identity, whether self-identity or communal identity.
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