“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be shared
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”
henna tatoos decorate the stretch marks
across her chest
from loving many ways.
and they like ’em like that
scratchin’ hipbones with no itch
they like ’em searchin’
glossy lipped and eyed
Nike “just do it” wearin’
county children raisin’
they like ’em like that.
nikki skies from the book “Pocket Honey Wind & Hips”
I was introduced to Nikki Giovanni through the poem, “Ego Tripping”
“I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended
except by my permission”
“I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my fingernails are
I was maybe a senior in high school when I found Giovanni through this poem at my local library. And I remember the embarrassed feeling I got after I read the poem. I thought…”who is this woman bragging on herself?” “who does she think she is to be referencing herself a Queen and being the mother to Hannibal and Noah?” I remember it felt great but it was also foreign. I almost didn’t want to be caught reading it.
What I realize now is that may have been my first time being introduced to an African American feminine narrative.
The poem wasn’t about doors or boats from Robert Frost.
The poem wasn’t about hope and feathers from Emily Dickinson.
It wasn’t the blues from Langston Hughes.
It wasn’t Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton or Paul Lawrence Dunbar…
or my beloved Maya Angelou and her Caged Bird…
Nikki Giovanni was the first time I read an African American woman refer to herself as beautiful and being directly connected to all things beautiful in the art world of poetry.
I remembering sitting on the floor in the middle of the aisle at the library and reading the poems in her book and imagining a Tennessee cloud looking like cotton candy… women being judged for the length of their Sunday school dresses… summer love… and even to this day when someone mentions her name… it makes me smile and remember meeting her in the library that afternoon.
When I walked across the Pettus Bridge in Selma for the 50th anniversary earlier this year, Rev. Al Sharpton said something in a sermon that struck a cord with me. He said, “We praise our dead and condemn the living.” It made me want to acknowledge everyone that has served as inspiration to me before they left this planet!
So today, I acknowledge Nikki Giovanni! I speak her name for inspiring me and making me feel so embarrassingly, wonderful and warm about myself one afternoon at the library 🙂 The audacity of learning from poetry!
She said all it would take is $10
to sense the spirits around me
and read my future.
But I tried to tell her it wasn’t me I was worried about
my prayers are blown to the
sunset gray ridden waves
that have washed my wishes and haunts
my prayers are for the
street prophets freestylin’
thinking they showed me love and let me slide
ignorant to the active place of genocide
in his backyard and her bosom.
I pray for abandoned children with two parents
I pray so long sometimes I fall asleep
and dream of the ancestors
I dream of heaven
I pray for women with deep
that only her missing child can scratch.
I pray poets with purpose
plant potent seeds for
progression with poise
I pray the baroque docks
so other poets can simply stop.
I pray this teaches those that know
that they don’t
so we can hold each other.
The incense hypnotized the seconds
as she checked her clock
she ended up
giving me $20.
Blame it on the trees if you thought
I’d continue to campaign for his dreams
and live off his land of fear verbed chatter.
Cause he’s not what he should be after all these seasons
point the finger at the sidewalk leaves
and stormed cracked branches
that allow me to conceive a
Soloman like thirst for honesty.
Blame it on the trees
the bare December influenced branches that carries
everybody’s voiceless intentions
to a generation searching for a
After the fall storm
comes a rainbow and the smiles
stay / don’t hide from us
Laugh at what they taught
hear my verbs and protect us
be father to all.
Stop gambling your seeds
for a night to feel human
let divineness shine.
Open / not enter
love your womb and its’ future
don’t be forgotten.
I preserve my world
in journals so my children
can eat without me.
moon face full of stars.
little woman / soft voice with cursive connotations.
and universe hugging
woman of literature.
my love for her is beyond words.
adoring / fond / attached like a new lover.
even though she is associated with the black arts movement, she is one of those artists who have walked through hip hop with us. her words have survived the linguistic flips and inspire/challenge writers today. she joined blues music with her poetic styles of tanka and haiku. she is the key of b sharp.
she is award winning and legendary and highly sought after for lecturing on women’s rights and literary topics.
I am writing this as if everyone knows where she was born and who she was married to and how many books she has, etc. if you don’t know… look her up and land in love with poetry and prose. over. and over. again.
sonia sanchez, one of the reasons I have realized/actualized I must write.
“It is not enough to be a woman writer. It is imperative that we are women writers who write about other women, responsibly. Otherwise, we’ll continue to write rebuttals on misrepresentation or the utter absence of our literary presence.”
Recently I returned to the city that grew my art, Los Angeles, California. It is not the city I was born and reared in, however; it is the city that I consider home. Where I grew into a woman and an artist.
Not expecting anyone to write my story, a few years back I had the audacity to write a piece of Los Angeles poetry HERstory that was not talked about. What prompts this post is, during my recent visit to Los Angeles when I spoke about this information in front of a crowd, I was asked to be mindful and tell the “whole story” of LA women in poetry. Interestingly enough, I’ve never seen the “whole story” written by my male comrades nor during my visit did I hear any conversations that announced the “whole story” of women in poetry. The four day span I was in Los Angeles, when “the good ‘ole days” conversations came up, there was a repeated rundown of the male figures that were prominent in the foundational game but the women were harmoniously absent from the listings.
One of the roles of the artist is to re-create life’s perception within a societal context. Some say the conditions of the moment define the creation of art through political, cultural and religious/philosophical terms. With that, there will always be an audience for our voices, so why do we torture ourselves with endless edits and insecurities of not being artistically accepted?
So many of us sit surrounded by genius pieces of art inspired by our immediate communities. Award winning poems and best selling novels. We have garage spaces and storage units full of paintings and sculptures that depict an opulence of emotions. And the fear of our vulnerability being labeled as weak disables us from sharing. And the masses of our culture in the states does not support our profession so we get a “regular job”. And turn our passion into a past time or extra way to make money.
Everyday of the week. In every situation in life. The individual in the position to persuade or that perceived the story will always have an audience that understands and supports them. As artists, we have to identify when in our lives we began to believe no one would appreciate our art and stop this. Because no matter what the discourse is from the expression, it will be perceived by someone that understands and folds our endless nights.
Artists can be inspired by the simple things. The sudden swarm of birds on branches to a nostalgic smell of perfume or cologne. When I abandon concerns of the world, I am able to be inspired by almost anything because my senses are without judgement and I can apply optimism to everything! Perhaps this was the process Lorraine Hansberry encountered when she created the timeless theatrical masterpiece, A Raisin in the Sun.
She was inspired by the poem entitled, Harlem, by Langston Hughes. This was one of the first poems I memorized and one of the first I made my nephews memorize! This poem inspired her to write the play that put her in the history books. With her play, Raisin in the Sun, she became the first African American woman to write a play performed on Broadway and the youngest and fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. The success of this play led to it being translated in 35 different languages and inspired the talented Nina Simone to write her song, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. After Hansberry’s death, her husband was inspired to adapt a remaining collection of her work into a play with the same name of Simone’s song.
Art is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy… The origin of art derives from the antiquity of documenting life or scribing so it is not surprising that this string of inspirations are connected. Some days I feel like Lorraine Hansberry when I pick up a pen and begin to write after hearing a song or note on from a saxophone or analogy from a poem. I get inspired by people and situations around me and of course I hope I will leave inspiration to others.