Here I Am . . . See Can You Handle It | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Here I Am . . . See Can You Handle It


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HERE I AM . . . SEE CAN YOU HANDLE IT, at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church. Since the publication of her first book in 1968 at the age of 25, Nikki Giovanni has been recognized as a poet whose articulate voice and ironic insight transcend the frequent ephemerality of her subject matter. She can render a Whitmanesque hymn of self-deification suddenly fresh and original with the startling assertion: "I am so hip even my errors are correct / I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the earth as I went." Her sly anecdote about three tempters from the FBI, the CIA, and INTERPOL bent on subverting her black-power stance offers an amusing look at that era's shameless government tactics.

Lydia Gartin's one-woman show, adapted from Giovanni's poetry and autobiography, begins with a childhood tale of dueling for her beloved elder sister's honor and proceeds through the quasi-revolutionary upheaval of the 1960s, concluding with the observations that rhetoric-fueled radicalism is futile and that individual actions are the tool for effecting change--"We must learn to live for ourselves." Like Giovanni, Gartin recognizes the wisdom of achieving the general by way of the specific, and delivers what could have been a dry, didactic piece in a disarmingly conversational tone, frequently breaking through the fourth wall to stroll among audience members and speak directly to them like a hostess making certain no guest is ignored. To spectators accustomed to the declamatory manners of today's performance poets, Gartin's intimate approach is welcome, making for an engaging, instructive introduction to a major literary figure.

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