Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni

Overview

When Nikki Giovanni's poems first emerged from the Black Rights Movement in the late 1960s, she immediately took a place among the most celebrated and controversial poets of the era. Finally, here is the first compilation of Nikki Giovanni's poetry. It is the testimony of a life's work from one of the commanding voices to grace America's political and poetic landscape at the end of the twentieth century.

From the revolutionary "The Great Pax Whitie" and "Poem for Aretha" to the ...

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Overview

When Nikki Giovanni's poems first emerged from the Black Rights Movement in the late 1960s, she immediately took a place among the most celebrated and controversial poets of the era. Finally, here is the first compilation of Nikki Giovanni's poetry. It is the testimony of a life's work from one of the commanding voices to grace America's political and poetic landscape at the end of the twentieth century.

From the revolutionary "The Great Pax Whitie" and "Poem for Aretha" to the sublime "Ego Tripping" and the tender "My House," these 150 mind-speaking, truth-telling poems are at once powerful yet sensual, angry yet affirming. Arranged chronologically, they reflect the changes Giovanni has endured as a Black woman, lover, mother, teacher, and poet. Here is the evocation of a nation's past and present — intensely personal and fiercely political — from one of our most compassionate, outspoken observers.

One of America's hottest and most controversial poets since the 1960s, Nikki Giovanni has been a teacher, mother, activist, and the unflagging poet of more than 13 poetry collections. This volume of her impeccably chosen, truth-telling poems is a celebration of her remarkable career and the changes she has endured as an African-American woman, lover, and feminist.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the late 1960s, Giovanni emerged as one of the youngest and most controversial poets of the Black Arts Movement. She would go on to broaden her influence as an essayist, teacher, lecturer and activist. The poetry collected in this volume is arranged chronologically, gathering work from her first book, Black Feeling Black Talk (1968) to the present. The poems touch on themes and events of the last four decades of the nation's history. ``His headstone said/ FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST/ But death is a slave's freedom/ We seek the freedom of free men/ And the construction of a world/ Where Martin Luther King could have lived/ and preached non-violence'' is ``The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr'' in its entirety. Giovanni's work is also deeply subjective: ``I wrote a good omelet ...and ate a hot poem.../ after loving you.'' Springing from a strong commitment to African and African-American oral tradition, her voice is fierce, resilient, often celebratory and rooted in the vernacular of her community, whether she speaks as African American, woman, mother, writer or lover. (Jan.)
Library Journal
One of the most popular and influential poets of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Giovanni was raised in Knoxville and Cincinnati but made a name for herself in New York City by drawing a standing-room-only crowd to her first poetry reading at the jazz club Birdland in 1969. A genius at self-promotion whose work struck a responsive chord with blacks and whites, she was able to sell 10,000 copies of her first book, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968)-a self-published volume-in less than a year. She has been, at times, a controversial political figure-she opposed the boycott of South Africa during the 1980s, for instance-and has continued to make a name for herself with public and TV appearances, numerous volumes of poetry, prose, and children's verse, and as a teacher and doyenne of the literary world. Her distinctive lower-case "I" ("sometimes/ when i wake up/ in the morning/ and see all the faces/ i just can't/ breathe") is a recognizable trademark, and her poems have been a potent force for young and old. For most collections.-Ellen Kaufman, Gallery Lib., Smithsonian Inst., Washington, D.C.
Donna Seaman
Most "selected poems" collections are published because a poet's early volumes have gone out of print. That's not the case with Giovanni; all her major collections remain viable and extremely popular, but it's instructive and convenient to have selections from six of them gathered together in one place. This rich synthesis reveals the evolution of Giovanni's voice and charts the course of the social issues that are her muses, issues of gender and race. Giovanni has always been a topical poet and, indeed, believes that poets must write about the conflicts and injustices of their times. And what times they've been since 1968 and the publication of her first book, "Black Feeling Black Talk Black Judgment". A tireless speaker, Giovanni carries on the oral traditions of African and African American culture with her forthright and forceful voice, both live and on the page. She expresses anger and sorrow in searing poems, such as "The Great Pax Whitie" and "Woman Poem" ; then, in a completely different vein, croons passionate love in "The Way I Feel" and confides contemplative loneliness in "The December of My Springs." Giovanni's poems are like church bells, ringing out loud, clear, and true.
Booknews
The jacket copy has it all wrong: "controversial," "political," "revolutionary," "angry." But Giovanni has always been first and foremost a lover, and this is a collection of her love--forthright, vulnerable--in the affirmative musical language of her Black womanhood. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688140472
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 520,817
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni, poet, activist, mother, and professor, is a seven-time NAACP Image Award winner and the first recipient of the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award, and holds the Langston Hughes Medal for Outstanding Poetry, among many other honors. The author of twenty-eight books and a Grammy nominee for The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, she is the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

On Hearing "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair"

He has a girl who has flaxen hair
My woman has hair of gray
I have a woman who wakes up at dawn
His girl can sleep through the day

His girl has hands soothed with perfumes sweet
She has lips soft and pink
My woman's lips burn in midday sun
My woman's handsblack like ink

He can make music to please his girl
Night comes I'm tired and beat
He can make notes, make her heart beat fast
Night comes I want off my feet

Maybe if I don't pick cotton so fast
Maybe I'd sing pretty too
Sing to my woman with hair of gray
Croon softly, Baby it's you

Copyright ) 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1995, 1996 by Nikki GiovanniN Giovanni-Selected Poem. Copyright © by Nikki Giovanni. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

The purpose of this reading group guide is to help your group further understand Nikki Giovanni's poetry. It is not intended to direct you toward an opinion of her poetry, but rather to enhance discussions about it by introducing helpful information and suggesting topics that may have not come to mind. Giovanni's poetry encompasses a wide range of emotions, from joy to rage, loneliness to pride, and vulnerability to resolve. Within each collection of poetry one can find numerous and varied moods, ideas, and images. Compare, for instance, the angry "Black Judgments," one of her earliest poems, to the tender "On Hearing 'The Girl with the Flaxen Hair'" from the same collection. Giovanni's poetry offers the honest insights of a writer who lives very much in the moment, as ephemeral as that moment may be. Her poetry is unapologetic and direct, and allows the reader immediate access to her meaning, rather than cloaking her ideas in intellectual abstraction or literary allusion.

Giovanni was earliest identified as a "poet of the people," though to read her work as solely topical is to ignore its emotional resonance. She moves easily from the realm of the political to the personal, and because she has had the opportunity to witness firsthand the events and know the figures that shaped the destiny of three generations of African Americans, she provides a uniquely intimate perspective on contemporary history. The individual is as relevant to Giovanni's poetry as is the community, and she imbues her lovingly detailed portraits of people from her life with as much energy and emotion as her commentary on society as a whole. It is testament to her strengthas a poet that she can move her readers with her prescient, witty, and poignant reflections on daily life in one poem, and then offer stirring observations on the broader issues of racial injustice, intolerance, and bigotry in the next. Finally, because music is an essential part of Giovanni's poetry, we encourage you, as a group or individually, to speak and sing and shout these poems. They are as much a celebration of words and rhythm as they are of life, with all its rich and rewarding possibilities -- and they are meant to be shared with the world.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Many of Giovanni's poems, for example, "The Great Pax Whitie," "Ego Tripping," and "Poem of Angela Yvonne Davis," make reference to ancient and American history. What effect does the use of historic facts and figures have on these poems' accessibility and emotional impact?

  2. Giovanni considers herself a topical poet. Much of her earlier work deals with the black revolution movement of the late 1960s. Are these poems still relevant today? Why or why not?

  3. Can you identify different personas Giovanni uses in her work? Compare, for instance, the narrators of "Legacies," "How Do You Write a Poem?," "Poem for Black Boys," and "Life Cycles." How are the narrative voices different in each? How does Giovanni use persona to enhance each poem's meaning?

  4. Giovanni often uses images and remembrances from childhood in her poetry. "Nikki-Rosa," "Poem for Flora," "Adulthood," "Mothers," and others deal with the inner lives of children. How does Giovanni portray the experience of childhood? Of growing up? What does she say about the importance of self-esteem in children, especially in girls?

  5. How does Giovanni use slang and vernacular language in her poetry? Compare "Conversation" with "For a Lady of Pleasure Now Retired." Both poems address the dignities and indignities that come with age, yet their moods are quite different. Can you explain the effects of language in both poems?

  6. Giovanni often writes about being alone. Compare such poems as "I'm Not Lonely," "Alone," "A Certain Peace," and "Patience." Which are about loneliness, which about solitude? What is the difference, and how do these poems reflect that difference?

  7. Giovanni's poems range widely in mood: from the celebratory "Ego Tripping" and "Beautiful Black Men," to the angry "Reflections on April 4, 1968" and "Woman Poem." What impact does mood have on these and other poems? How do these poems make you feel after you read them? Can you identify which words and images bring about these feelings?

  8. Giovanni's poetry has been criticized for being too simplistic. How important is accessibility to you as a reader? Do you think some of her simpler, shorter poems, such as "Winter," merit the same attention as her more complex poems, such as "Africa I" and "Africa II"? Why or why not?

  9. Most of Giovanni's poems possess a rhythmic quality that lends itself to being read aloud. How does the effect of reading her poems silently differ from that of a spoken reading?

  10. Can you identify a development in Giovanni's work from the earlier poems of Black Feeling Black Talk to those of Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day? How are the poems in these collections different? How are they similar?

  11. Do you think Giovanni's poems are best appreciated by black women? How are the issues and moods of her poetry pertinent to a larger audience?

  12. What have you learned about the black experience from reading these poems? Do you think Nikki Giovanni is an appropriate spokesperson for African Americans in general? What do you think of poetry's ability to educate and enlighten?

  13. Do you consider Nikki Giovanni to be a "political" poet? Why or why not? How do her poems about social issues compare with her love poems or her reflections on childhood?

  14. In her poem, "Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day," Giovanni writes: "I share with the painters the desire/To put a three-dimensional picture/On a one-dimensional surface." How are the disciplines of painting and poetry similar? Do you think Giovanni is successful in her attempts at using words to portray life?
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