Poetry magazine, a publication of the historic Poetry Foundation has commenced its 110-year celebration with an iconic presentation at the Foundation’s annual Pegasus Awards.
The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a staple of the ceremony, typically awards $100,000 to one living U.S. poet. However, in an unprecedented move, the organization set aside over $1 million to honor 11 illustrious recipients during the October 2022 ceremony.
These living legends are: Sandra Cisneros, CAConrad, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Juan Felipe Herrera, Angela Jackson, Haki Madhubuti, Sharon Olds, Sonia Sanchez, Patti Smith and Arthur Sze.
The Poet’s List is honored to present: The Pegasus Poets; an interview series with this legendary cohort of winners. The second installment of this interview series features Nikki Giovanni.
You were honored at the Poetry Foundation’s 2022 Pegasus Awards for your astounding achievement within the poetry world. Could you ever have envisioned this level of success?
As an artist, I have always thought my responsibility is to find and deliver truth. I did not and do not look forward or back. I try to do my best.
How would you describe your fellow Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize awardees?
Most of my fellow and sister awardees I know, and have known, for quite some time. It is always good to be in the presence of creative people.
The Poetry Foundation has put forth dedicated efforts to increase diversity, as is reflected in its new leadership!
With regards to diversity, what markers signify forward progress within the poetry world or the community-at-large?
Diversity is better for the people who have stopped segregating than [for] the people who are segregated against. I am proud that our sister and fellow citizens are less and less being afraid of the truth coming from various communities.
Scott Joplin opened a door that George Gershwin walked through. Elvis Presley took advantage of the road Little Richard paved. I am happy that now poetry is no longer afraid of the wonderful work of Countee Cullen or Paul Laurence Dunbar among others. I am especially proud to have been a friend of Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Walker.
Others awarding my work is good for them.
How has your audience changed over time? How does it affect your actual writing or the reception of your work?
The folk, old and young, who have shared my work with me these fifty years have been intelligent, open-minded, humorous, kind [and] patient; everything one would want to share with.
I’m still me: growing and sharing. They are still them: growing and sharing. We are still us.
Prior to landing on poetry, what memories do you have of your relationship with literature and writing as a youth?
I did and do like to read. I’m essentially a non-fiction reader who loves young adult and children’s literature. I love libraries and bookstores. I wish there were more independent bookstores. We miss them.
What captivates you most when consuming the work of other poets? In other words, what makes a good poet?
I have never considered I should judge a poem. What suits you on Monday may bore you on Friday. A good poem is that which works when you read it or need it.
What words of advice can you pass along to today’s passionate crop of contemporary poets?
The last thing any artist should concern himself or herself with is legacy. After all, you will be dead, so it can’t possibly matter to you. Life is a good idea. I would hope I live it while I am here. The rest belongs to someone else.
Poetry magazine will publish a commemorative folio of work by all 11 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize winners in its April 2023 issue. Subscribe to Poetry today to ensure you receive a copy of this incredible issue!
Official Site: https://nikki-giovanni.com/
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the featured artists (ie. poets, authors, writers and experts) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Poet’s List LLC. Any content provided by the artists are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything. Legal