The Poetry of Life

A poet. A celebrity. A teacher. A daughter. A mother. After spending an evening with the esteemed writer, Nikki Giovanni, students feel both exhilarated and touched. She manages to combine humor with political commentary, messages about the strength of black Americans and poetry.Sisters of the Round Table (SORT), a student group that supports women of color on the Colgate campus, and the ALANA cultural center, especially with the help of director Jamie Nolan, brought Nikki Giovanni to Colgate.Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943, Giovanni attended Fisk University, continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work and then studied at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts. She currently is a professor of English at Virginia Polytechnical Institute. A renowned poet and essayist, Giovanni is considered a leading voice for African Americans, especially for African-American women. She preaches a message of urgency for blacks to discover their identities in a white-driven culture.During her lecture, Giovanni was honest and at times shocking, moving and outrageously funny. When she spoke, she never looked down to refer to notes, stories morphed into commentaries, which easily became poetry. A few minutes into her lecture, she stated, “I so hate the President,” and subsequently went to speak out against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Giovanni explained that Rice was able to go to college, graduate school and get her first job all because of affirmative action. Once President George W. Bush hired her, she began to speak against affirmative action.Giovanni declared that she does not consider Rice to be black.She pushed her audience to do something important with our lives. “There’s something else to be done in life other than what’s already been done,” she said, drawing applause from the crowd.After discussing about when she was invited to speak at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Giovinni proceeded to outline her plans to send randomly chosen people from around the world into space and to undertake a journey to Mars. She claims that she was only invited to speak at NASA because it was February, and they needed a black speaker for Black History Month. “NASA doesn’t know me,” she said, “because if they knew me, they wouldn’t have invited me.”Giovinni shared her idea that African Americans ought to venture to Mars. When they were brought to America and made into slaves – despite the treacherous journey, the unfamiliar land, language and people, and the unimaginable cruel treatment — she believes that they found a way to build a family and found their place in this once unknown land. “They deserve credit for this amazing feat,” Giovanni said, “and therefore are the only people prepared to take on the feat of traveling through unknown atmospheres and settling in a new and unfamiliar place.”She then read her poem entitled “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea,” which articulates her point that the trip to Mars can only be recognized by Black America. In the end, Giovanni concluded her talk by reading a poem entitled “The Song of Defeat,” which was published in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. “It is appropriate that I sing the song of defeat,” she said. “I am a black woman.” The audience stood up and applauded to celebrate the greatness of Giovanni, and to express their gratitude for being able to experience that power and beauty of her words.