Nikki Giovanni: The Sister From Another Planet!
Copyright by Dan Schneider, 2/12/04

  On Sunday, 2/8/04, I tuned in to C-Spanís Booknotes program. The guest author was poetaster Nikki Giovanni. Iíd seen NG read her poems before but never had I seen her in an extended interview. After viewing that show I wonít ever need to see another NG interview. The woman came across as someone who lives on another planet. I grew up in Queens, New York, near a methadone clinic & many of the addicts, after their daily dosage, made more sense than anything NG uttered.
  1st off, this was the 1st time Iíd ever watched the show from beginning to end. Host Brian Lamb was atrocious- letting NG ramble on & on with no governance. As the host of my own interview show, Omniversica, I know quite a bit about interviewing. The fact is that BL did not even get around to the supposed subject of the show- NGís Collected Poems- until 35 minutes into the hour long show. As for NG, she seemingly had no understanding that the only reason anyone would have a reason to talk to her is that she has this book to shill. But on NG rambled of her past, her politics & other assorted nonsense. She played the stereotypical poet activist whoís clueless about the real world.
  BL started the show by asking NG of her plethora of honorary degrees, & what they meant to her. NG answered, ĎThey all did because degrees are credentials. Iím a black American, and credentializing is very, very important. And it always takes you back to your mother and your grandmother and your dad because theyíre always so, like, pleased. And the first honorary degree I received was at Wilberforce University, and my father was still alive then....And my father, who was never really sure what exactly I did for a living -- so he was very pleased to see me get a piece of paper that made sense.í Apparently NG does not recognize that an honorary degree means nothing. For example, when idiots call Maya Angelou a Doctor they are misusing the term because that does not apply to honorary degrees. Not to mention that this supposed fiery black activist seems so willing to cede her own self-worth over to Ďcredentialsí gifted by others- odd to say the least. It makes 1 feel that sheís been nothing but a poseur all these years- & knows it herself! Still on the 1st query, NG then rambled on about making money as a kid- as if that had any connection to the query. Her logorrhea would only get worse.
  After briefly answering a query about her 1st money made in writing NG then gizzed on incessantly: ĎSo within the parameters of living within that car and within myself -- because you canít afford debt when youíre an artist -- I did all right. But I did enough to publish a book called "Black Judgment." And of course, "Black Judgment" -- all of this is going to be part of the collected. But my mother, speaking of Mommy, is a jazz fan. And so when "Black Judgment" came out, I wanted to do something special, something for my mother. And so I thought, Well, Birdland. Iím going to go to Birdland. Iíll have my book party at Birdland. Birdland was being run by....And he said, I tell you what Giovanni. You bring me 100 people, you can have the club, 99 people, you owe me $500. And so I was, like, OK. And Birdland, you know, was down. It was when it was on Broadway then. And itís down. So I walked up, and I walked....And Sunday, I had Morgan Freeman, who was my neighbor -- who cheats at cards, but thatís another discussion....í & on & on she spewed. BL proved his utter incompetence by failing to reign NG in & make any sense of the interview. My wife, Jessica, thought NG was a nice, funny lady (albeit talentless), but I sensed something more disturbing afoot.
  A bit later it came out that Nikki Giovanni was up for a Grammy Award the same night this pretaped show was airing (she was nominated for Spoken Word & lost to comedian Al Franken). Her answer droned on like someone with ADD: ĎIíve got a 4-in-5 chance of losing and a 1-in-5 chance of winning, right? And Iím just not as well known and stuff as the people Iím running against. But Iím excited to go and Iím just, like Ė Iím bouncy. And people now -- because Blacksburg is a small town. Blacksburg is Virginia Tech. And the first time it was announced, I didnít know it. I didnít realize that it had been on morning television. So I went into the Post Office, right, and Catherine is there -- well, my postmistress. And Catherine says, Oh, congratulations. And Iím, like, On what? And she said, Youíre up for a Grammy. And I said, Oh, how did you know? She said, It was on television this morning. And now Iím in Kroger`s, you know, and people are, like, Hey, bring that Grammy home to BlacksburgÖ.My mom is having a Grammy party. And so sheís got, like, 20 people coming over. Of course, what I keep telling her is that, Youíre never going to see me because, one, Iím not going to win, but two, even if I would, the spoken word is like an earlier today.í Have you noticed the plethora of Iís in her answers? I did. This is a familiar marker for some 1 who is living in their own world- detached from reality.
  Then a query about her Emmett Till was twisted by NG into a tirade about Rosa Parks & the Brown vs. Board Of Education decision. Not only did NG get the year wrong, but her linking of 1 of the countless lynchings in American history with a famous Supreme Court decision is 1 of those leaps of faith that Left Wingers hope that saner heads wonít pick up on. Sorry, Nikki! Hereís some of her burble: ĎIn 1955. It was August. The trial was in September. And as the defense of Bryant and Milam, who did indeed murder the young man, said, Iím sure that -- to the jury, which was an all-white, all-male jury at that time, as you know Ė Iím sure that every drop of Anglo-Saxon blood in your bodies will let you free these men, which they did. They then they sold their story to William Bradford Hughey at "Look" or "Life" -- I forget which one -- for, like, $4,000. But they did it. Rosa Parks, as did the rest of the country -- because I remember seeing the pictures of Emmett. His mother opened the casket, and it was one of the really important things that happened. She just died last January....And you have to remember, Ms. Parks was sitting on the aisle, that there was someone else on the window. She got up and let him out, and I have no quarrel with him. I have no quarrel. But she got up and let him out and sat back down. That was December the 1st. People want to say, Oh, Rosa Parksís feet were tired. Her feet were tired on November, you know, 30, too. And Iím sure her feet continued to be tired. But it wasnít about tired feet. It was about her soul.í In the real world, when someone spouts like that you tend to back away slowly- yíknow? What any of this- Parks or Tillís murder for supposedly whistling at a white woman- has to do with her poems or books is- well, I donít know either. She then blathers on about President Eisenhower signing Tillís fatherís death warrant for treason in Germany. Again- what the f---?
  Then she attacked Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas as a lawn jockey. Ok- I canít disagree- but repeat after me: WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH POETRY? Oh, wait- all poetry is political. I keep forgetting that.
  Then another foray about her having cancer. Then a sillier 1 about the racist implications to the word Ďaliení as applied to illegal immigrants. Finally- at the 35 minute mark BL mentions poetry- well, what NG calls Ďpoetryí. Now, read this exchange, 1 so insipid that it should have ĎCopyright © by Bill Moyersí after it:

BL: I mean some poetry -- what I`m getting at -- some poetry rhymes and others don`t.

NG: Yeah.

BL: Explain the difference. What do you call it?

NG: Iím not a very good rhymer. And every now and then I will end up doing something like, a poem like "What It Is," you know, ultimately you get to -- if itís gum, we can chew it, I hope itís love so we can do it. And I had a -- I love that -- just I like little silly poems, you know. But for the most part, Iím a lyricist, but Iím a storyteller. And I think as Iíve gone into my career, I mean -- this is like a 30-year career, a little bit more, as weíve gone into it, I think Iíve relaxed more with the storytellingÖ.Iím a storyteller and I use poetry, but Iíve felt free to use everything that poetry offers. I mean, Gwendolyn Brooks was a great sonnet, right? And I knew - I love Ms. Brooksí work. And I had -- you know, we were both born on June 7. And so, once I became a writer, you know, and I got to know Gwen, it was very, very nice. But Iím not going to write sonnets because Ė Iím not going ever, and I know that. I mean, Iím not humble, but Iím never going to be as good as Gwendolyn Brooks was. On the other hand, she is not going to write as good a blank verse as I do. So Iím very, you know, comfortable with that.


  & no- you did not read wrong. NG called Gwendolyn Brooks a sonnet- a poetry form- not a sonneteer. She then claimed she was on a par with GB, which is silly enough. But then she shows her utter ignorance of poetry when she confuses Ďfree verseí- her style- with Ďblank verseí or the iambic pentameter made famous by Shakespeare. Oy!
  Then more insanity as she riffs on Charles Darwin: ĎIím able now to take a research leave in six, because I want to Ė Iím following the footsteps of Darwin, because no poet has ever looked at Darwin. We, I think, erroneously turned Charles Darwin over to the sociologists and to the politicians, and the economy -- You know, a lot of people who didnít, I think, treat him right, because survival of the fittest, it was translated, but itís not what Darwin, I think, meant, not the way I studied it. And a lot of things are luck. And what I wanted to do, what Iím involved in doing is I want to go around the world by water. I didnít want to fly, because he went by water. And I want to -- I want to see some things for myself. What I know. I know that we have not made proper use on Earth. This is an Earth thing, this is not an American thing or not an African thing or not an Ė itís an Earth thing. We havenít made proper use of what the captured Africans learned and decisions that they made in coming through that period called middle passage. What they did from being captured in Africa and being brought to the United States and the Caribbean, what I know. As we get prepared to go to Mars, and weíre going to Mars, and we have to go to Mars because Mars is our neighbor and Mars cannot come here, because Earth is crazy. And if Martians came here, weíd kill them. So weíre going to have to go. That same loneliness of being in an unknown spot with no known landmarks is what -- is what weíre going to encounter.í Darwin, Middle Passage, Mars- I tell you this sort of logorrhea is the same nonsense you find being muttered by men who sleep on subway grates. I mean- really re-read the just above nonsense. I did not edit it.
  Later, she shows off her ĎThug Lifeí tattoo in honor of murdered rapper & criminal Tupac Shakur- whom she speaks of as if an acquainted. When asked if so NG rambles some more: ĎNo, no. I didnít know Tupac and I didnít -- and do not know his mother, Afeni. I have met his aunt now, because I was down in Atlanta, but I support and did support the -- I do support, not that they needed it, the whole hip-hop experience, because it`s a true voice, and as a lover of the spirituals, and I grew up in the Baptist church with my grandmother, Iíve always loved the spirituals and thatís what Iím teaching now. Thereís a direct line -- I mean, you can go from Outkast all the way back to "Go Down, Moses," that thereís a direct line between the honesty of the hip-hop generation and the honesty of the spirituals, and indeed, the simplicity. To me -- and I do this without arguing with anybody, because I have no -- no quarrel, but to me Tupac was the epitome, and as I said in the poem, he was the tallest tree, and so having him cut down, everybody thought they could control it, you know. Sort of like watching Chuck Willis and then get killed, the next thing you know you got Elvis Presley, and then somebody wants to say Elvis is the king of whatever he is, but he isnít, he was singing black music. And thatís a fact. So Eminem, you know, does not have a right to diss black women when heís making a living in a black art form and you -- you get sick of that.í Iíve known enough people in my life to know that such blather comes from1 of only 3 possible sources- 1) psychological problems, 2) brain damage, or 3) drug use- either illegal or that used in chemotherapy. My dad would go on like NG did after chemotherapy had wasted some of his brain cells. I wonder if NG was this pathetic before her cancer? I mean, she literally compares Tupac Shakur to Emmett Till- a disingenuous comparison, & 1 Tillís relatives should recoil at.
  Yes, NGís poetry is horrible & I resent the way that she & countless other poets have bastardized the highest of the arts, but the reason for this article is to voice my concern that this woman may have some severe medical problems, & it amazes me that she is a tenured professor at Virginia Tech. Even worse, though, was the utterly unprofessional manner the interview was conducted. This is what passes for actual intellectual discourse nowadays. On the Left you have head cases like a Nikki Giovanni or wackos like a Susan Faludi or Elizabeth Wurtzel, while the Right offers up hypocrites like William ĎThe Gamblerí Bennett, or fools like a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Go to C-Spanís website & read the whole transcript. Iíve only given you a 10 minute or so taste. Itís really shocking to think that this is the level at which public discourse now resides. I just hope that NG really does seek treatment for whatever ills her, but shame on C-Span for allowing this nonsense to spill into the airwaves. I mean there wasnít a repeat of a conversation with some 1 of intellectual stature available? Like, maybe, John Grisham? Repeat after me- Oy!

Return to S&D

Bookmark and Share