Monday, April 27, 2015

National Poetry Month— Nikki Giovanni, Ever Evolving

Young Nikki Giovaniti

Nikki Giovanni was born in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee in a close knit family.  She was inspired by her grandmother, a natural story teller, to explore the use of words.  After growing up in a middle class Black suburb of Columbus, Ohio, she attended Fisk University in Nashville, one of the most prestigious of the historically Black colleges.
At Fisk not only did she find her voice as a poet and writer, but she was immersed in the Civil Rights movement and the growing militancy of emerging Black Power.  She served as editor of the campus literary magazine, participated in the Fisk Writers Workshop, and helped re-build the Fisk chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  After graduation in turbulent 1968 Giovanni went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York.

Giovanitti's angry and militant early books earned her a reputation as a Revolutionary poet.
While still an undergraduate Giovanni published her first collection of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk in 1967 in response to the assignations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Robert Kennedy.  A year later she followed up with Black Judgment, an exploration and appreciation of Black militancy.  The two books catapulted her into the front ranks of a new generation of poets and one who had appeal to wider audiences.  A third volume, Re: Creation published in 1970 cemented her place as a leading young black voice.  She was soon embarked on popular readings, often incorporating black music.
Giovanni took a teaching position at Rutgers University and gave birth to her son Thomas.  She worked to help other Black writers find outlets through NikTom, Ltd., a publishing cooperative which published Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Carolyn Rodgers, and Mari Evans.
As Giovnni matured as a poet and woman her interests broadened.  She continued to write in clear, accessible language about her life and experiences, but later work was not as explicitly political as her early efforts.
She also began writing for children and young people beginning with Spin a Soft Black Song in 1971 and continuing through her Caldecott Medal winning Rosa in 2005.
Giovanni was teaching at Virginia Tech in 2007 when the tragic shooting occurred there.  She composed a memorial chant that was recited at the campus memorial service the next day.
She has written dozens of books, including two compilations, and non-fiction work.  Giovanni is among the most honored of contemporary poets having received the NAACP Image Award, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, and over twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.
The mature writer.

Childhood rememberances are
always a drag if you’re Black
you always remember things like
living in Woodlawn with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something

They never talk about how happy
you were to have your mother
all to yourself and how good the
water felt when you got your bath
from one of those

Big tubs that folk in chicago barbeque
in and somehow when you talk
about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings as the
whole family attended meetings

About Hollydale and even though you
remember your biographers never
understand your father’s pain as he
sells his stock and another
dream goes

And though your’re poor it isn’t
poverty that concerns you and
though they fought a lot
it isn't your father's drinking that
makes any difference but only that

Everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays
and very good Christmasses and I
really hope no white person ever has
cause to write about me
because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy.

—Nikki Giovanni


one day
you gonna walk in this house
and I’m gonna have a long African
you’ll sit down and say “The Black...”
and I’m gonna take one arm out
then you-not noticing me at all- will say “What about this brother...”
and I’m going to be slipping it over my head
and you’ll rap on about “The revolution...”
while i rest your hand against my stomach
you’ll go on-as you always do- saying
“I just can’t dig...”
while I’m moving your hand up and down
and I’ll be taking your dashiki off
then you'll say “What we really need...”
and taking your shorts off
then you’ll notice
your state of undress
and knowing you you’ll just say
Isn’t this counterrevolutionary...”

—Nikki Giovanni

When I Die

when i die i hope no one who ever hurt me cries
and if they cry i hope their eyes fall out
and a million maggots that had made up their brains
crawl from the empty holes and devour the flesh
that covered the evil that passed itself off as a person
that i probably tried
to love

—Nikki Giovanni


If i can’t do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don’t want
to do
It’s not the same thing
but it's the best i can

If i can’t have
what i want . . . then
my job is to want
what I’ve got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

Since i can’t go
where i need
to go . . . then i must . . . go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn’t lateral

When i can't express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal
I know
but that’s why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry

—Nikki Giovanni


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