Poet's Choice

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A.Van Jordan writes books of poetry that approach a subject the way a filmmaker or nonfiction writer might. His new book has a useful "Selected Bibliography," and many of the poems are headed by screenwriting categories such as "Flashback" and "Cut To."

The material includes American racial realities in the segregationist years following World War II, and the scene is (more or less) Princeton University, with Albert Einstein as one of the characters and physics part of the vocabulary. Princeton did not admit its first Negro students until the late 1940s! Einstein, in these poems as in life, addresses that instance of racism and other American social issues.


INTERIOR: Princeton Classroom, 1945 -- DAY

Einstein has read JOHN HERSEY's Hiroshima in the New Yorker . He buys 1,000 copies to send to his friends around the world. Now, he goes into the classroom to teach, facing the chalkboard to work an equation.

Einstein Doing the Math

I turn to the black expanse of the chalk

board and the numbers spill

from my skull first and from fingertips

in time. Time in mathematics

brings complications, sequentially.

Numbers demand order and orders

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