Nikki Giovanni: rap poetry is part of world literature

PHILADELPHIA — Nikki Giovanni, world renowned poet, spoke here in Philadelphia, May 28, as par of Art Sanctuary’s 26th Annual Celebration of Black Writing Festival. She held a reading and a discussion at the Church of the Advocate. It was a wonderful setting. There was barely a seat left in church. Children and adults came from every part of the city to here her speak. Her poetry was excellent, but she offered more than her poetry to her repertoire. She spoke on a wide variety of subjects: Rosa Parks, the tea bagger movement and the connection between rap poetry and American art and literature.

Giovanni said that she feels anyone who supports the teabagger movement “is a fool.” She said most of them have nothing to complain about. In fact, to her it is nonsensical that anyone could believe that they should not have to pay taxes in a modern nation.

Behind the tea party movement, she said, were greedy and cruel people who really wanted to turn there millions of dollars into billions. She tied this into the general attitude of the right-wing — an attitude that allowed children to receive less and less in education. These days it is acceptable to cut out gym, library, after school programs, and pay teachers next to nothing in the American school system, she said.

On the subject of Rosa Parks she delivered both a poem and eulogy to her late friend. She knew Rosa Parks and was close to her. Giovanni said Parks’ death was untimely, because she wished she were here so that the children of this generation could experience her. She knew how to say no. “No to those people who would deny freedom to others in this land,” she said. Rosa Parks saw oppression in these United States and did something about it.

Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tenn., a city located in Eastern Tennessee. She said when she grew up television had not really arrived there and people in that region entertained each other by stories. She feels that storytelling is a traditional gift of the people of that region. She cites Dolly Parton, a person who tells her stories through her songs.

Giovanni said she believed the rap poetry movement was a contributing force in world literature. She felt that it was created in much the same way that classical literature was developed throughout the world. First, she felt it was developed from the songs and language of the people, and although first vilified, later rose to become classic forms of world literature.

She cited Italian Renaissance culture and Moorish culture as examples. Tupac Shakur, for example, was a major force in the development of rap poetry, she said.

She felt that people needed information in order to write. Feeling is important but one must research and read other sources in order to have something to write about. Giovanni said she started writing poetry seriously while she was in college. In college she read a great deal of history, a subject she said she loves. It was that information that provided her with the material she needed to create poetry, she told the audience.

Giovanni also mentioned the city of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Sound — the music of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff — had a tremendous impact on the music, culture and poetry in the United States, she said.

Photo: Nikki Giovanni/CC