Sixty Cent Coffee And A Quarter To Dance

Review by Willard Manus

June Jordan is a woman who has been to hell and back. The experience is powerfully recollected and dramatized in her new book of poetry, SIXTY CENT COFFEE AND A QUARTER TO DANCE (Louisiana State University Press). Now a teacher at Southern Illinois University, she was once a homeless person, working part-time at a Greek-owned pizza joint, living in her pickup, hanging out at a bus station with other street people: hookers, pimps, crack addicts, alcoholics, petty criminals--losers all, sad specimens of the failure of the American Dream.

Jordan gives them all a voice, a chance to tell their story. Tbey may be the dregs of society but they are human, she reminds us; they deserve to be heard. "I do not imagine that I can fully represent anyone else's experience of the past century and indeed the poem speaks to the hopelessness of complete understanding and communication, but also to the imperativeness of an attempt at empathy, understanding, communication, and more."

Jordan uses vivid, pungent language to bring to life her cast of characters, and is able to go inside their heads and let us know what they are thinking, feeling and suffering. Some of them are able to express themselves in raw, bluntly honest soliloquies, others can only vaguely remember the horrors they have lived through: the rape, brutality, betrayal and displacement. Jordan does her best to honor them:

So I've brushed my teeth in public bathrooms,

slept in abandoned buildings, and carried all I owned slung in a backp[ack--

this story and that, yours and mine,

but just words,

just words

which never quite touch,

though they try, yes they try.