“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.”
Years ago I decided I would not never become a teacher. I envisioned it as confinement. I am a creature of routine BUT I do not want one imposed on me. I always saw being an educator as someone who was doomed with routine and rewarded with low pay. That was not the life I wanted to live.
As time and the ancestors would have it, my poetry created a platform for me to engage my art at colleges and universities. Not just as the “entertainment” but additionally as an educator to young writers on the importance of preserving the black vernacular. My art eventually evolved to focusing on the feminine narrative. Encouraging the black feminine voice expressed and written from a holistic perspective and not just as a presence to move a plot forward. These discussions exposed two things, (1) I had more questions than answers and needed to do more research to educate myself (2) I was pretty good at this teaching thing.
My community knows me primarily as a performance poet and from the theatre. Both of these creative platforms allowed me to express undivided and intellectually intact. I had the company to be beautiful and the security to laugh at myself and others. As I immersed myself more with the writing community, plays and novels, I felt absent- invisible even. I was stifled with this feeling once before when I studied film at Howard University for my M.A. In screenplay writing, I didn’t have the company of voice, meaning the character written or represented on film, was not a bridged visualization of my existence as a woman. A black woman, a woman of color living in this country. My questions about the presence or the acceptance of what was represented as the black feminine narrative, now became a plaque of concerns. That was until I got my hands on Toni Morrison’s “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination”.
I have seen Alice Walker speak twice here in Atlanta. Both times, the crowd was mostly women, predominately white women. My last observation of the energy from the admiration of her literary works came during the Q and A. I remember sitting there trying to construct a precise question on how she connects her creative process with her person as a black woman. What I realized specifically is that the majority of the questions from the black women were trying to get the same information as I was and that the white women were asking her about spirituality. I remember thinking how odd that seemed to me that both black and white women seemed uninterested in the documentary that was just viewed. We wanted more and yet, Alice Walker is for the most part a fiction writer.
Fast forward to me now back in grad school and how often she is referenced in Africana Women’s Studies, Gender Studies and Women’s Studies. It all makes sense. My question on how she connects her creativity and her womanhood is in all of her work. I know realize how intuitively and effortlessly this is done in her work. I’m not certain of this, but I don’t think as she sat and wrote prose, short stories or poems that she was thinking on how she could contribute to feminist critical theory or black feminist theory. Nor could she have known how her personal expansion of feminism into “womanism” would take on entire subjects. Or perhaps she did… after all she is also an essayists and speaker.
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!
Ain’t nobody talking about it
the strong black woman is tired by Tuesday.
and on Thursday,
She buries another virtue so Friday morning can be a
She goes for unavailable men
cause of Her father’s absence.
it’s your problem
cause your daughter plays with Her daughter
I need you,
To care for her.
from the book “Pocket Honey Wind & Hips”