“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.”
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 in Texas / South Dakota
She in Alabama / South Carolina
Empty beds / abandoned hairbrushes
a forgotten body
You call me angry
But you, have a million ways to hate me
So this isn’t anger / this is my confused face.
these lines on my forehead are
glass ceilings / eulogies / sexism and sermons
these lines are 400 year old collection notices
these lines are me not wanting to compete for every corner of my existence
this isn’t anger.
this is proper placement privilege
this is / been here done that and steady grinding
this is you mistaking me swallowing whole fruit for breasts
this is my lipstick protecting my smile when I kiss the moon at night
it’s not magical all days
sometimes I can’t abracadabra away feeling… “other”
sometimes it’s real survival tactics needed
these lines remind me where I hid bail money
where I’m safe to unbraid my fears and wash my past
this is an emotion you can’t repeat
cause you damn sure duplicate everything else about me
but this isn’t anger.
this is for my pushed back knuckles from
fighting traffic, hunting for low gas prices, scrimmaging through too ripe produce in my local grocery store, you know / regular stuff
this isn’t anger
this is me demanding you stop displaying to the world there are exceptions to me being human
being woman / being protected / be-ing loving / be-ing loved.
this is I don’t want the crime solved 30 years from now when the killer is probably in my breathing space
I’m not supposed to be offended when you call me angry?
But you, -have a million ways to hate me
this isn’t anger.
this is my stay ready face. – by Nikki Skies for “Rebel Yell” on BET.com
Well, 2015 is wrapping up here folks and there are some things I want to share along my many discoveries and self reflections. Here we go:
Thank you to the Cross Cultural Center at Cal State Los Angeles for allowing me to share my artistic journey with writing my novel, The Town Dance. I was pleased to meet with the students and encourage all the writers in the room.
As I discussed while I was there, as a writer, it is imperative to maintain an active bibliography. Reading is the BEST writing prompt to keep you active. Your bibliography should keep you abreast of the writers in your genre and in tune with what your audience is interested in. Keep in mind, it does not have to be novels you are reading. It can be a book of poetry, your favorite magazine or reading through your favorite blog.
In regards to our conversation today, I want to share more of the books and authors that were vital resources and tools as I wrote The Town Dance and some literary works I re-visit to study for my writing journey:
Absolutely anything by SONIA SANCHEZ, BELL HOOKS
“Homeade Love” by J. California Cooper
“In Search of Our Mother’s Garden by Alice Walker
“Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Ann Collins
“Salt” by Nayyirah Waheed
“But Some of Us Are Brave: All The Women are White, All the Blacks are Men; Black Women’s Studies by Aksasha Gloria Hall
In addition, the organizations I referenced were RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) and SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape).
If you weren’t able to pick up a copy of The Town Dance you can do so here 🙂 Thank you again and keep reading and writing!
Speak on Love,