Poet Nikki Giovanni offers her thoughts and work

Marlene Brueggemann

In today’s society, Americans have a lot more problems to worry about other than the exposed breast of a famous pop star.

That’s Nikki Giovanni’s take on it, anyway.

The renown poet, writer and activist lectured and read her poetry last night during an hour-long presentation in Van Meter Hall.

Taking a rather random course through subjects ranging from Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl revelations to Martin Luther King Jr., Giovanni used anecdotes to lead into her poems.

Giovanni said she doesn’t understand the hype that came after Jackson’s right breast was momentarily exposed on Sunday during the Super Bowl halftime show.

People should rather be embarrassed about watching a game where the main goal is to beat each other up as much as possible, Giovanni said.

Giovanni then talked about space exploration and her invitation to speak at NASA. That lecture inspired her to write the poem “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea – We are going to Mars.”

Giovanni compared humans traveling to another planet with the African middle passage. In both instances she said, humans would be leaving behind everything they knew and going to place that was totally unfamiliar to them and without any expectation of what would be there.

“The trip to Mars can only be understood through black Americans,” she said.

Just a few weeks past the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Giovanni also briefly pondered what it would be like if King were alive today. He would have been 75 years old Jan. 15.

“I’d like to think that if Martin was with us today he would braid his hair,” Giovanni said.

She said King would probably have a tattoo reading “freedom now” if he were alive in 2004. Giovanni herself has a “Thug Life” tattoo on her left forearm.

Giovanni said King was a modern man who would have gone along with changes in culture.

Nashville sophomore Mandi Wansley said attendance at the lecture was required for her English class, but she would have gone anyway.

“I like her straightforwardness and the way she speaks her mind.”

To end her presentation, Giovanni offered a rendition of her famous poem “Ego Tripping,” in which many in the audience could be seen reciting the words along with her.

C.J. Woods, director of diversity programs, is familiar with Giovanni and was pleased with her talk.

“Her poetry is inspiring to students because it reflects her real life experiences and social issues,” Woods said. “I think students can actually relate her poetry to some of their experiences as a college student, particularly in regards to diversity and cultural sensitivity.”

While Nashville freshman Latoya Mills said she was unfamiliar with Giovanni, a professor at Virginia Tech, but also enjoyed the lecture.

“It was excellent,” Mills said. “She is a strong woman, I can tell.”

Herald reporter Kyle Hightower contributed to this story.

Reach Marlene Brueggemann at [email protected]