Nikki Giovanni wows crowd in NoDa

The internationally acclaimed poet has written a new book -- Bicycles: Love Poems. She came to the Qcity Friday to help promote the Charlotte Literary Festival

If anyone went to Alive in NoDa Friday night expecting Nikki Giovanni to be on her best behavior, they no doubt left delightfully disappointed.

The 65-year-old poet was, as usual, brilliantly irascible.

She attacked newly installed U.S. Sen. Ronald Burris for smiling too much, espoused a conspiracy theory about the 1989 shooting death of former Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton and even let fly the occasional profanity.

But mostly, she read poems.

Beautiful, lyrical poems.

Giovanni is a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech University, and her tenure there heavily influenced her latest collection — Bicycles: Love Poems. She came to Charlotte as part of the “Change is Coming to Charlotte” speakers series, which raises money for the Charlotte Literary Festival.

The poet who once gave voice to the Black Power movement had barely taken the stage when her talk turned to politics.

“There is no Negro on the face of the Earth that should smile as much as that Negro does,” she said of Burris, whose appointment to the Senate seat once held by President Obama was widely criticized.

Burris’ appointment by ousted Illinois Gov. Rod R Blagojevich “did not give us a black man in the Senate,” she said. “In all of Illinois there has to be one good black man. I know one — it’s Jesse Jackson Jr. Why are they always sending the weak and the crazy and we’re supposed to be proud of it?”

She criticized Jesse Jackson Sr. for comments he made expressing a desire to, in a manner of speaking, castrate former-candidate Obama, and U.S. Rep Bobby Rush for once calling Obama an “educated fool.”

Both were driven by jealousy, she said.

Giovanni also chided those who say Obama’s election is the realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

“Martin’s dream went beyond what would happen in the United States,” she said. “Martin’s dream can’t become a reality until we stop bombing Afghanistan… Martin’s dream can’t become a reality until we rebuild the damn Ninth Ward in New Orleans.”

She reserved her harshest words for investigators who say Newton, the former Panther, died on an Oakland, Calif., street corner after a drug deal went bad.

“That’s bull—-,” she said. “I don’t know any other word for it.”

Ironically, Giovanni’s latest collection begins and ends with violence, not love poems, as the name suggests.

Its first piece, “Blacksburg Under Siege: 21 August 2006,” was written in response to a double murder near the Virginia Tech campus. The book ends with “We Are Virginia Tech,” a poem she wrote following the 2007 massacre on the Virginia Tech campus. Giovanni had been one of the killer’s instructors.

The poem reads in part: “We are strong enough to stand tearlessly/We are brave enough to bend to cry/And sad enough to know we must laugh again”

Sandwiched between those bookends of grief are 63 love poems. The 65-poem collection, she said, represents each year of her life.

Giovanni said the poems of sadness represent circles, or bicycle tires, and the only thing that could bridge these circles, like the crossbar of a bicycle, is love.

One of her favorite poems she read from the collection was “Deal or no Deal,” a tribute to the television game show. Giovanni said she told her Virginia Tech students she’d like to put on a red dress and audition.

“My dream is a red dress / Above my knees / High-heel red sandals / And me coming over the top / The music booming / Hi Howie I will say / With a lovely smile / I don’t want to play the game / I want to be it”

Her students, she said, advised her that would be a bad idea for one as famous as she. So Giovanni ends the poem with this retort:

“They were born forty years after me / Yet I am younger / I know you cannot go / Through life / Unless you are willing / For love or money / To make a fool / of yourself / Where else does the ecstasy lie”

Share your thoughts about this article: Click here

0 Comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from QCity Metro