Spoken-Word Artists Bassey Ikpi and Giles Li Tell It Like It Is

| Online Exclusive: April 2009

  • Giles Li

  • Giles Li

Bassey Ikpi and Giles Li have harnessed the power of spoken word to connect with people across physical and social divides. Ikpi, a veteran of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam , and Li, founder of the Boston Progress Arts Collective , a groundbreaking community of New England-based Asian American artists, recently wowed the audience at the Equilibrium Spoken Word Series at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I sat down with them to talk about poetry, self-expression, and how it feels to be an established artist in an ever-changing medium.         

Born in Nigeria, Ikpi’s family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma when she was four years-old. This jarring experience proved "quite a shock" for her, and she found in poetry both a refuge and a way to process her feelings.

“The reason I started writing was to be heard, to understand a very unique place that I was in,” she explains, “you know, this Nigerian girl transported to this southern town and all these things that made no sense to me and trying to figure out a way to make sense of it.”

Soon she was writing her own poetry, as well as reading voraciously.

"My father gave me Nikki Giovanni’s 'Ego Tripping' when I was about eight years old," she says. "It gave me a lot of confidence, and I really liked—I hate this word, but it applies—I really liked the swagger of the poem.”

While Ikpi started writing by turning inward, Li focused outward.  Li grew up outside Boston in a town he describes as "fairly diverse for a white area.” Unlike Ikpi’s, Li's poetry was born not from isolation but rather from a need to articulate his burgeoning political and social views as an Asian American man.