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January 11, 1976 - Image 3

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1976-01-11

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Page Three

page four-books

Number 12

January 11, 1976




Nikki C
She has been called he princess of
black poetry. But as Nikki Giovanni
walks casually on stage, unimposingly
clad in comfortable slacks and a bulky
knit sweater, a sure-footed manner is
her only hint of royalty.
Her hair, cropped into a short, fuzzy
afro just beginning to gray, is the only
tell-tale sign of her passing youth. Her
years of experience as a writer reflect
that same subtle maturity. As a black
activist of the sixties, her first volumes
of poetry were forged by the anger and
fire of the era. Now, standing before
her audience, she seems a patchwork
of extremes - compassion and social
anger coupled with a rough but romantic
Giovanni, in 1968, wrote: "What can
I a poor Black do to destroy america/
This is a question, with appropriate
variations being asked in every Black
heart - There is one answer - I can
r E OLD POLITICAL fervor has not
melted away, but has found a new
direction and control as she begins to
address her largely Black student audi-
ence in a local appearance with the
University's Trotter House Gospel Choir,
last month. Her sweeping generaliza-
tions are replaced by pointed comments
and opinions on specific political issues
- busing in South Boston, the Univer-
sity's educational system, Detroit and
the students' own futures. She urges
them to action for their own personal
good, - "You all are intelligent, you
know that white folks are not going
to give you a job, you must create
a job" - and for those behind them.
"What you will go through or what I
will go through in my sojourns across
the,country we can prevent anyone else
from ever having to experience." Gio-
vanni says to her audience.
"You can make sure that people know
that you were serious when you came
by, maybe you didn't get everything
but at least they remember. It's just
like football for those of you who play,
when you hit a guy you know you can't
stop him, butyou hit him so hard that
the next time he comes up and sees
you he pulls back - he doesn't want
to be hit like that 'again."
Wound like a clock that won't stop,
she hops from one vital subject to the
next. Finally, taking a deep breath, she
says, "And now I'd like to read you a
poem about my mother..."
"'VERYBODY HAS TO make a po-
liticalstatement now and then,"
explains Giovanni privately following
the reading, "because you're an artist
and you're concerned about certain
things. But I think the politicization that
you saw in the late sixties is not go-
ing to happen again. There was a time
in '68 that I would have tried to make
every political issue a poem, but every-
thing isn't suitable to write poetry about.
She says her new approach is "just
a normal maturation process . . . as a
writer of 12 books, I'd say that the
themes spiral - not going in circles
but hopefully spiralling upwards."
... The last time I was home
to see my mother we kissed

exchanged pleasantries
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books ...
... She may have been smoking
but maybe not
her hair was three quarters her height
which made me a very strong
believer in the Samson myth
and very black...
("Lately I've been writing about peo-
ple, especially older people," points out
Giovanni. "I'm fascinated by them.")
The audience responds audibly to her
On Nov. 23, an article entitled
"Why the dance: Two explana-


In timate



readings every step of the way. Clustered
as close as possible around the stage,
they laugh, clap, and talk back to her
- urging her on gleefully as she delves
into a particularly sensual passage.
("Like a dolphin being tickled on her
stomach my sea of love flip flops all
over my face.")
AND READINGS are something Gio-
vanni enjoys doing. Committed to
the oral as well as the written word
from the start, 'Giovanni first began
receiving national notice as a poet after
a New York appearance with a well
known gospel choir. Now she travels
thousands of miles a year to tell her
poetry to groups ranging from prison
inmates to college students.
Her verse lends itself especially well
to antoral reading. She writes in a
narrative style often in black English.
Street language, the basic sights and
smells of everyday living are woven
into the intimate subjects of love, sex
and family to describe the specifically
black cultural experience.
A child of an intellectual and
middle class family from Cincin-
natti, Giovanni draws from her
own happy childhood and family
experiences as well as that of ghet-
to blacks. The combination twists
a variety of patterns ..
childhood remembrances are al-
ways a drag
if you're Black...
you never tell about how happy
you were to have
your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when
you got your bath
from one of those
big tubs that folks in chicago
barbecue in ...
vanni divert from the every-
day to evoke images of exotic and
faraway Africa.
I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent
and built the sphinx
... I sowed diamonds in my back
My bowels deliver uranium
the filings from my finger nails
semi-precious jewels
The hair from my head thinned
and gold was laid
across three continents .. .
Giovanni writes with a faith in
her own and other black people's
powers. And because of that power
she feels optimistic about the fu-
"It's poor people who are going
to make the Nelson Rockefellers
of this country move back," com-
ments Giovanni. "It's grass roots
movements taking one step at a
time - if you take one step -- if
all you do is stand then you've
changed your perspective, and you
can take another step," explains
Giovanni privately.
However her optimism is laden
with frustration over the Black
M 0 M ,n t' current inerti.

they've said don't worry
sit on our asses and we
dead people."
I used to dream militan
dreams of taking over a
to show
those white folks how it
done .. .
... then i awoke and du
that if i dreamed natui
dreams of being a natu
woman doing what a w
does when she's natural
I would have a revoluti
For Giovanni herself as
poetry, the "revolution" h
on a far more personal fl
Just what is a natural
in Giovanni's estimation d
compact explanation. But
sists on defining her sex a
nine not feminist" and
into a dialogue with her
on this point just to cla
"[VE BEEN very disappo
Women's Lib," she ex

think women are very different
from men - obviously we are dif-
ferent ,- in many respects we are
superior." The audience chuckles
as Giovanni continues softly, "But
I like women - I am one.
She speaks with added concern
about a new breed of "hard wom-
en" and "soft men" that she says
the women's movement has spawn-
ed, then laments, "the difference
between men and women is what
{ makes it nice to be alive."
Her perception of her sex follows
a pattern only understood in con-
:::. nection with her blackness. W ith
the touch of an old fashioned ro-
mantic she condemns coeducation-
al dorms, "because they take the
. So we romance out of courting."
become Both her poetry and personal
manner deal mean a large degree
t of very old fashioned feminine ad-
merica oration. "He was just one of those
special people that you honed if
should you didn't get him, somebody else
would because you just didn't want
it all to be wasted." comments Gio-
ag vanni lihtly in speaking of an
ral old flame and acquaintance.
mral Her poetry, while thoroughly
roman sensual in nature, often skirts for
!on. the sake of a lighter effect the ex-
O pninit sexual metaphor and detail
with her found in the work of some modern
as taken authors. As a result it often fails
avor. to oi- niv in&t into relation-
, woman shins between the sexes.
efies any But as a hapnily unwed mother
she in- of a child of six. and an educated
Is "femi- woman, Giovanni's own personal
lauches break with tradition is severe. "I
audience reject it if they (men) try to tell
%rify the me how to be a good . . . black ...
woman . . ." Nikki tells her audi-
inted in ence with mock seriousness. "One
claims "I of the things that disturbs me

-Photo by Tom Jackson

sometimes when I read black male
writers is that they're always de-
fining women, and the way that
men define women you'd think
that they knew something about
being a woman and they don't,
they really only know something
about being men."
GIOVANNI IS careful to put equal
stress on the need for black
males to redefine themselves,
"Really guys you got to change
your image," she jokes with the
crowd, "but seriously, black men
are never viewed romantically. It's
going to be another literary revo-
lution when black men begin writ-
ing about each other, in terms of
liking each other in terms of we
are friends."
Later on, face to face with two

whitey female reporters, Giovanni
indicates a key*objection to "Glor-
ia Steinham's women's Lib." It is
"Have you got the right," she de-
mands, "to take an affirmative ac-
tion law school seat or a scholar-
ship from a black or minority per-
son? White middle class women,'
she says succinctly," are not a mi-
nority but mothers of the major-
political attitudes, stands a
masquerading as a minority move-
ment, claims Giovanni, and that
does damage to black affirmative
Elaine Fletcher is a staff writer for
The Michiganl Daily.
See GIOVANNI, Page 5

Advisory committees in Washington:
A fourth branch of the government

Gathered in the dingy Com-
merce Department conference
room in Washington, D. C. last
summer were the likes of David
Dawson, Willam Druehl, and Jack
Parker. While not exactly house-
hold names, they are the top exec-
utives of DuPont, Del Monte and
General Electric, which certainly
They and 16 other powerful busi-
nessmen had come from all over
the country to tell the government
what American industry wanted in
the crucial multi-national trade
agreements then being negotiated
in Geneva, Switzerland.
Within hours, their recommen-
dations were put in report form,
stamped top secret, and rushed to
the negotiators in Geneva with-
out further review. Every one in
that room had government secur-
ity clearance and each remark was
considered classified information.
But a secretary walking down the
hall could have clearly heard the
voices through the partially open
door - a concession to the scorch-
ing afternoon heat.
MORE THAN 1,200 federal advis-
ory committees, involving over
20,000 people, meet - often in sec-
ret - to colleet information. dieest
data, and then snit it back at the
bureaucrats in the form of policy
recommendastons. The looselv-
struetured system has been onerat-
ino- hehind the senes for decadre.

we are all too well aware came into
existence some 200 years ago. To be
sure, most of the power remains
with the President, Congress, and
the Supreme Court. But advisory
boards have become so pervasive
that they have to be considered a
branch in their own right. A
branch that was grafted onto the
tree late, but flourished once there.
The groups do their thing hid-
den under a thick veil of bureau-
cratic puffery - harmless press re-
leases, career pencil - pushers,
and mountains of reports - that
in the era of Watergate and Cen-

tral Intelligence Agency dirty
laundry is disquieting. But they
also have traditionally represented
exclusively big business and other
special interest.
"THEY ARE AN insulated layer of
government," says Senator Lee
Metcalf (D-Mont.) who has spent
much of this legislative career try-
ing to unravel the advisory com-
mittee network. "They are not
really elected or appointed and not
very well known."
Thanks in part, to Metcalf's dili-
gence, a recent federal law has
thrown a spotlight on advisory

committees for the first time by
forcing them to meet in open ses,
sion with certain exceptions, file
lists of members, and seek "balanc-
ed" representation. Yet, each of
these regulations has been syste-
matically evaded by various com-
Take for example, the "open"
meeting of the coastal engineering
advisory board held last year. The
session included a series of field
trips in the Cape Cod area, and
those members of the public wish-
ing to take part had to supply their
own transportation. But committee
members and federal officials used
military helicopters and dune bug-
gies to make the Jaunt, according
to the Department of the Army.
THE PRESIDENT, Congress, and
government agency heads
have the power to establish advis-
ory committees -which they seem
to exercise with abandon. There
are boards on nearly every imagin-
able subject from the President's
Council on Energy Research and
Development to the Agriculture
Department's committee on hog
cholera eradication.
Even the government officials
legally responsible for monitoring
the committees 'admit no one
knows exactly how many of these
committees are formed or dis-
banded. Others operate so deeply
in the recesses of government that
they go completely unchecked for




-111 l
r~ r,-

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