Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pleasant Surprises: Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikki Giovanni & Poetry Magazine

I had been waiting to get my hands on the July/August 2011 issue of Poetry magazine ever since I heard that, among other things, the issue would contain pieces by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Nikki Giovanni. I've followed both of their poetry for some years now, though in different contexts.

I tend to study Giovanni in relationship to the black arts era when she became one of the most popular poets of her period, and I am frequently interested in her ongoing popular appeal among large numbers of contemporary readers and audiences.

I view Ellis as a widely respected, if not leading, figure among his generation of poets. His writings provide evidence of an engaging and provocative thinker.

Both Ellis and Giovanni are captivating poets, but I had somehow not thought about them enough in the same context for some reason. So when I got word that their works would both appear in Poetry, I was especially intrigued.

Well, yesterday, my issue of the magazine arrived, and I quickly scanned the table of contents to figure out what pages to turn to for their poems. To my surprise, there was no listing for poems by Ellis or Giovanni.

Could this be a mistake? I quickly turned to the back cover to make sure I had in fact seen their names. Yes, they were there.

I opened the magazine again and realized that the poets I was seeking were listed somewhere else. Turns out, Ellis's contributions for the publication included several photographs and a write-up, and Giovanni's contribution was a short prose piece.

Ellis's photographs are primarily of African Americans and presumable black cultural spaces in various locations, including some shots from New York and at least one from Mississippi. His accompanying essay includes his musings on photography and writing, filled with all kinds of nuggets such as the following: "I am aiming for invisibility when I take a picture much more so than when writing a poem. I want to be seen when I write and seeing when I take photographs."

Giovanni's "Chasing Utopia" is a short, comical narrative about her quest to overcome her boredom by getting a hold of "the number one beer in the world." Giovanni's live performances make her one of the most entertaining poets I've ever seen. This piece "Chasing Utopia" had me laughing out loud like I do when I see her presenting at public events.

There's more to say on this issue of Poetry, and I will when and if my schedule permits in the coming days, giving me more time to read and write. For now, I'm pleased that I have been so pleasantly surprised by these something-other-than-poetry contributions from two fascinating poets, Thomas Sayers Ellis and Nikki Giovanni.

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