El Jones explodes into the scene of written poetry with her first book, Live From the Afrikan Resistance! (Roseway, 2014), with passion, intelligence, and scorching honesty. Working from past to present, Jones’ book portrays her constant drive to reinforce the connection she sees between poetry and social justice, evoking the activist poetry of Ntozake Shange and Milton Acorn. Poems like “Mandela” and “Grandmother Zilla” pay homage to the struggles of the past and honour those who came before her; poems like “It Can Be Done” demonstrate how those struggles persist into the present and urge readers to continue the work.
In “Unsettling the Empire: Resistance Theory for the Second World”, Stephen Slemon explains how “resistance itself is […] never purely resistance, never simply there in the text or the interpretive community, but is always necessarily complicit in the apparatus it seeks to transgress”. Jones’ poems show how one writes successful resistance poetry; as she navigates within societal apparatuses while pointing out their inequalities and failures. Live From the Afrikan Resistance! presents sharp commentary on the injustices that spring from ages of institutionalized racism and classism, as in the poem “Boxes” when she comments that “They are boxing us up,/ Boxing us out,/ And boxing us in” (90).
Jones’ poems do not shy away from harsh truths. In “Kings and Queens” she states, “We’re all up in each other’s business but we can’t get up in each other’s businesses/ And then we wonder why we still don’t own shit?” (54). She constantly pairs such commentary with calls to action for social responsibility, as is brilliantly showcased by poems like “If You Done Shit”. This pairing also demonstrates one of the main srengths of Jones’ abilities; her poetry appeals to anyone who reads it. While the book is written primarily to reach the audience of her communities and those who experience the same injustices she does, it simultaneously educates anyone who picks it up. Her accessible language reflects a desire to connect to multiple audiences. Jones’ poetry also ties global issues to her Atlantic Canadian roots, naming local culture heroes like Rocky Jones and Viola Desmond. It moves readers to understand the reality of what it is to be Black in Atlantic Canada, but also to understand the potential and actual sense of community that this identity brings. This book is about community itself, reading more as a loving collaboration than as a singular effort. The energetic, intelligent, and masterful technical wordplay of Live from the Afrikan Resistance! reflects Jones’ usual medium of spoken word, and readers can see how her work was translated from performance to the page. Her words more than survive the journey.
Review by Molly Strickland with input from Monica Grasse, Sharisse LeBrun and Ben Lord
— Wording Around