Don’t you feel good when you meet someone who gets it? I mean they get the times we live in, understand systems and what needs to be done to make change. They can talk about issues and when they say what they say you say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel” or “That’s what I would have said.” And sometimes these people get you. They know your foibles inside and out but don’t cast you out from their presence. You feel that they are that necessary person in your life. They offer you a type of life. They offer you hope. Poetically, Nikki Giovanni is that person for me. I’m not saying she 100 percent gets it with what she says, but she almost 100 percent gets me with how she says what she says. I don’t remember the introduction, whether in high school or college, but when I met Giovanni through her poems I knew she got me. I no longer saw my poems as having a different mixture of meters that wowed some “classically” trained university poets who heard my work; when I read her lines, I heard my lines, and thanked God for an elder with a similar voice.
Beliefs aside, she got me with “Ego Tripping”. She got me with the poems in “My House.” She got with me with her Tupac Shakur love poem “All Eyez on U”:
as I tossed and turned unable to achieve sleep unable to control
anxiety unable to comprehend why
2Pac is not with us
if those who lived by the sword died by the sword there would be no
white men on earth
if those who lived on hatred died on hatred there would be no KKK
if those who lived by lies died by lies there would be nobody on wall
street in executive suites in academic offices instructing the young
don’t tell me he got what he deserved he deserved a chariot and
the accolades of a grateful people
he deserved his life*
She says what she says with feeling. She doesn’t hold back in fear. I never get a sense that she is speaking with caution only speaking what she thinks she ought without the politics of acceptance shaping her words. She did this in her Tupac poem and she made me think. Not a Tupac fan or a real lover of rap, Giovanni’s poetic picture helped me to see another perspective of the saga surrounding the rapper’s life and death. Her rhythm makes me move when I read her work. Her words, whether slow and contemplative or spit fiery fast, flow through me, giving me pause about the subject and always affirming the poetic voice in me. That’s why I love her, without a doubt my favorite poet.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith
*From Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York: 1997