Envoi / Envoy
I would like this poem
to be an envoy —
Bearing a gap-toothed smile
between sharpened incisors …
What I’m Reading, or: What I Just Finished Reading (a continuing series)
A Dialogue / James Baldwin & Nikki Giovanni (1973)
A powerful edited transcript, in book form, of the Philadelphia Public Television current affairs program Soul! recorded in 1971. Giovanni and Baldwin talk about race, gender roles, literature, and more for nearly two hours. The book contains a short prefatory essay by Ida Lewis and an Afterword from Orde Coombs.
The video of the two episodes are available on YouTube, and is clarifying — it’s worth tracking down — of the few moments that are elided in the authors talking over each other, and revealing in the facial and physical expressions that are obvious to the viewer and in effect make clear some of the omissions, via physical communication, that the book doesn’t capture.
A wide ranging dialogue that include many illuminating moments like this:
“Giovanni: … I think that one of the nicest things that we created as a generation was just the fact that we could say, Hey, I don’t like white people.
Baldwin: That’s a great liberation.
Giovanni: It was the beginning, of course, of being able to like them.
Black Feeling, Black Thought / Black Judgment / Nikki Giovanni (1971)
This volume collates Giovanni’s first two poetry collections, both self-released in 1968. This is potent poetry, and a bit of a time warp back to the revolutionary zeal of the 1960s. The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998 (2003) includes exhaustive notes on all the poems included in this collection, and is a helpful adjunct to this volume — it obviously also includes these two books.
Anyway, the poems here are at once persuasive, searing, righteous, and capture both the particulars of the era, and the historical and universal issues of self-determinism and pride.
There are many favorites here but one short section of Giovanni writing after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., “Reflections on April 4, 1968,” gets at the gist:
“What can I, a poor Black woman, do to destroy america? This / is a question, with appropriate variations, being asked in every / Black heart.”
Going to Meet the Man / James Baldwin (1965)
Among the most powerful and visually disturbing short story collections I’ve read. I feel cheated that I have an undergraduate degree in English Lit, as well as plenty of postgraduate work, and I was never assigned any Baldwin stories, novels, or essays while in college. I guess better as an autodidact, and late, than never.
Includes the widely anthologized “Sonny’s Blues,” as well as “Previous Condition,” “Come Out of the Wilderness,” and “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” which are sublimely crafted and written stories.
The title story, which closes out the collection, is extremely disturbing in its nonchalance of a shocking event — it will stay with you a long time afterward.
“Rhythm and Blues is not
The downfall of a great civilization
And I expect you to
That the Temptations
have no connection with
— Nikki Giovanni / “A Historical Footnote To Consider Only When All Else Fails”