This Old Poem #24:
Nikki Giovanni’s Ego Tripping
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/21/02

  Nikki Giovanni is 1 of those poets who should never have deluded herself in to thinking she could write. What little (& I mean little) talent she had in her youth has given way to a near infantilistic regression in her writing. Most of the ‘poems’ she’s written in her 50s & 60s are things that even most 16 year old diaristic teenyboppers would find pathetic. No music, no skill, no attempt at anything poetic, the page seems to NG a place for her to bitch- be it on race, sex, gender, AIDS, etc.
  Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr. (YoGio, or YoYo?) on 6/7/43 in Knoxville, Tennessee, but grew up in Lincoln Heights in Cincinnati, Ohio, later attending Fisk University. She soon wasted her time in their Writers' Workshop & the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. This view of art & politics would doom all hope for her in future decades. By the late 60s she delved in to the Black Arts movement, black would-be intellectuals who wrote politically motivated crap that they raptured over. This group had earlier corrupted the sterling work of Gwendolyn Brooks. The murder of Malcolm X played a part in making her already narcissistic doggerel toxic, for now it was ‘political’ doggerel. The 1970s saw NG turn more confessional & less political. Unfortunately her technical skills were unameliorated by this latest affect. She later rejected poetry, per se, to become a spoken wordist. She was the typical brimstoner, but the words were piffle. By the 90s the aging failure turned her attention to merging spoken word with rap music. Need I go on? I must. Despite being such a ‘radical’ NG is also the quintessential Academic insider- ensconced at Virginia Tech as an English professor. A recent brush with lung cancer seems to have deradicalized the wanton doggerelist- she now seems to relish being an infantile Confessionalist. Ach du lieber!
  Before I get on to the poem in question let’s sample a brief piece of crap utterly typical of NG’s oeuvre, & from, I believe, her 1st Confessional phase in the 1970s:

Kidnap Poem

ever been kidnapped
by a poet
if i were a poet
i'd kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter
you to jones beach
or maybe coney island
or maybe just to my house
lyric you in lilacs
dash you in the rain
blend into the beach
to complement my see
play the lyre for you
ode you with my love song
anything to win you
wrap you in the red Black green
show you off to mama
yeah if i were a poet i'd kid
nap you

  All the typical crap is here- the lack of punctuation for no real reason, the clichés weakly masked by NG’s trying to fob this off as being from the POV of a child, the poor music, reasonless capitalization (& its lack), meaningless enjambment, etc.
  But, this poem is nothing compared to this incredibly bad poem from the same period. Has a title ever been more apropos?

Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
    the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
    that only glows every one hundred years falls
    into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad


I sat on the throne
    drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
    to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
    the tears from my birth pains
    created the nile
I am a beautiful woman


I gazed on the forest and burned
    out the sahara desert
    with a packet of goat's meat
    and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
    so swift you can't catch me


    For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
    He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on


My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
    as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
    men intone my loving name
    All praises All praises
I am the one who would save


I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
    the filings from my fingernails are
    semi-precious jewels
    On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
    the earth as I went
    The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
    across three continents


I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission


I mean...I...can fly
    like a bird in the sky...


  To save time I will merely paste what I said above in my brief rumination on the non-titular verse: All the typical crap is here- the lack of punctuation for no real reason, the clichés weakly masked by NG’s trying to fob this off as being from the POV of a child, the poor music, reasonless capitalization (& its lack), meaningless enjambment, etc. Add in the reference to being a ‘beautiful’ black woman & this poem is almost as laughable as the old ‘Black is beautiful’ bumper stickers of yore- what an ego, & a generic 1 at that!. This is an exercise in self-pity that is embarrassing to even a novice reader of poetry. What mawk! What self-indulgence. I won’t detail this poem’s crap any further. & the end couplet? C’mon. There is not a poem I can conceive of that could work with that ending.
  For this she claims to be a ‘Black Intellectual’- 1 of WEB’s Talented Tenth? The rewrite:


There may be a reason why

I am bad


I sat on an ice age
I gazed on it in two hours
My strength flows myself
into myself to round off
the earth as I went
across three continents


  In looking at my attempt at rewriting- & several versions before it, which I just had to thresh through, I have come to a conclusion heretofore unknown to TOP. This poem cannot be saved. Every attempt at rewrite fails. I cannot even work up the energy to explicate why my rewrite, which is better, although not passable, should be read. It has no real potential, even though the title is better. Caveat- recall, in TOPs I do not add anything, I just whittle to a poem’s essence. This 1’s still sucks ass. I admit it: I am beaten. NG’s poetic incompetence has proven to be too strong. Oh well, never let it be said I cannot admit failure. That said, let me simply add this- oh, fuck it. I’ve wasted enough time with this crap from a poet that doesn’t even give a damn about art herself. If she did, you’d think she’s at least drop the coyness & tell us the reason why? On 2nd thought- scratch that- some mysteries need no Sherlocking!


Final Score: (1-100):

Nikki Giovanni’s Ego Tripping: 35
TOP’s There may be a reason why: 42

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