A moment in time with Nikki Giovanni
Little did I know when I took the book off the shelf at home that Nikki Giovanni would read from it.
Possibly the most exciting moment for me at this convention was when Nikki (“Ms. Gionanni” seems so impersonal) searched the audience for a copy of her poems. Being in the front row and having my copy of Ego-Tripping on my lap, I held it up and offered it to her.
Now, I’m not much of an emotional guy. Though I consider myself a poet, I don’t tear up very often.
That moment, as I handed my book to its creator --- to one of my poetry idols --- I felt a rush of emotion starting in my eyes and spreading quickly in all directions. Jumping off cloud ten (one higher than cloud nine since Paul used that phrase in the previous blog entry), I sat down and anticipated her reading of “Nikki-Rosa.”
[Note: It may be important for the reader to understand that “Nikki-Rosa” was marked with a little slip of paper…it being one of my favorite poems for the last 15 years and one I use when I teach about Nikki’s work and about ‘voice’ in poetry.]
She prefaced her reading with a comment about one of the lines in the poem. She explained that “I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me” really meant that she didn’t want anyone who “thinks white” to write about her. The thought crossed my mind that she might be talking about me. That she might have been giving me permission to write about her…as long as I ‘get it,’ as long as I’m not “white” in that arrogant, self-absorbed, pretentious, hateful sense. [Reader, you’re going to have to judge for yourself, or trust me --- I don’t think white. I’m one of the most colorful thinkers you’ll meet.]
Well, she read her poem from her heart, which is the only way she knows how to do anything, I think. Ideally, a poet would have every poem he or she’s ever written etched indelibly in her head, but this is far from an ideal world and I actually even reveled in that fact. She needed the text. It not only allowed her to use my book, it confirmed that she’s human and mildly forgetful as she ages…like some other poet I know. ☺ Though she rarely looked at the text, it was there in front of her. That same book I had read many times, that I had passed around the room and had my students fondle.
Yes, she signed the book. Yes, that’s me in the photo with her. It really happened.
She also spoke very warmly about Rosa Parks, the subject of her newest book, Rosa. It was intriguing to hear she met Mrs. Parks in an airport, unplanned; there was definite pride in her voice as she shared that Mrs. Parks knew of her work.
That moment in time was worth the drive to Pittsburgh for me. If I could drive 5 ½ more hours and have a similar experience with Garrison Keillor or Maya Angelou or e. e. cummings, I’d be on the road right now.