Poet Nikki Giovanni and others using their words in Chico

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni

1. Words “Popular” and “poet” are two words that don’t often bump into one another. Poets are not the stars of today. However, if words like “Obama” and “Oprah” put themselves into the sentence, then the poet’s name becomes the word. Nikki Giovanni is one of those rare names. She’s one of the few poets in America to approach being a household name, and she will be in Chico Friday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m., to read from works both old and new (including her latest book of poetry, Bicycles: Love Poems) during a free reading/book signing at Chico State’s BMU Auditorium.

Yes, Giovanni has gotten love from the big O’s—she was one of 25 African-American women named by Oprah as a Living Legend, and was invited by Obama to read at Lincoln’s birthday bicentennial earlier this year—but the 66-year-old Giovanni’s life’s work runs much deeper. Once dubbed the “Princess of Black Poetry,” Giovanni has been, among other things, a life-long civil rights activist; the author of dozens of books of poetry and children’s books; 2004 Grammy nominee for spoken word; and Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech University, where she’s began teaching in 1987, and where she read a rousing closing poem during the convocation the day after the 2007 massacre.

Here’s an excerpt from “I AM JAZZ” from Giovanni’s latest, Bicycles:

I am jazz
I am smooth but not pop
I am cool but not contained
I run the soundtrack
Of your life
You enter me with dissonance
Then command a little rag
There may even be a prayer or two
Somewhere in there
I am jazz
When you are alone
I come to you
Giving you rhythm to work
And rhyme to care

2. Words And speaking of widely known writers who are coming to Chico State, Oxford University and UCLA professor emeritus Daniel Walker Howe will be speaking at Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall Wednesday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m., for this year’s Joanna Dunlap Cowden Memorial Lecture. The world-renowned historian’s talk will focus on American technological advances (such as the telegraph) in the early/mid-19th century, one of the areas of change covered in his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

3. Words And speaking of poets, in case you just skipped straight to Arts DEVO without stopping to admire the cover or peruse the cover story this week, let me be the one to introduce you to Poetry 99. I am happy to say that much of this edition of the paper has been written in short verse by you readers. And I am especially happy to say that the CN&R has teamed up with Lyon Books on a book of the poems of Poetry 99, and that book will be available at Lyon beginning Thursday, Oct. 29, during a poetry reading by this year’s participants starting at 7 p.m.

4. Words And speaking of armadillos: Arts DEVO finally took a break from the keyboard, un-balled his hunching spine, and made it to sound-artist Pamela Z’s Parts of Speech installation at Chico State’s University Art Gallery. The exhibit features a handful of fun stations of spoken wordplay to take you away from the work day, from the display of three reel-to-reel tape machines alternately looping the names of one-word images projected by videos above each (“eye”), to a QWERTY video/sound mash-up in the corner. Word.