Nikki Giovanni Essay - Giovanni, Nikki (Vol. 4)

Giovanni, Nikki (Vol. 4)

Giovanni, Nikki 1943–

Ms Giovanni is a Black American poet and author of the autobiographical work Gemini. Angry, joyful, sensuous, melancholy, energetic, Ms Giovanni's work is more and more frequently placed at the center of contemporary Black literary culture. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32.)

Nikki writes about the familiar: what she knows, sees, experiences. It is clear why she conveys such urgency in expressing the need for Black awareness, unity, solidarity. She knows how it was. She knows how it is. She knows also that a change can be affected….

[When] the Black poet chooses to serve as political seer, he must display a keen sophistication. Sometimes Nikki oversimplifies and therefore sounds rather naive politically….

Nikki is at her best in the short, personal poem. She is definitely growing as a poet. Her effectiveness is in the area of the "fast rap." She says the right things at the right time. Orally this is cool, but it doesn't come across as printed poetry.

Don L. Lee, "Nikki Giovanni," in his Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960's, Broadside Press, 1971, pp. 68-74.

The poet Nikki Giovanni looks upon her world with a wide open penetrating gaze. She sees her world as an extension of herself, she sees problems in the world as an extension of her problems, she sees herself existing amidst tensions, heartache, and marvelous expressions of love. But the tensions, heartaches, and expressions of love do not overwhelm the poet. She controls her environment—sometimes with her mind, often with her heart.

My House is the poetic expression of a vibrant black woman with a special way of looking at things. A strong narrative line runs through many of the poems: a familiar scene is presented, and the poet comments upon the people or the events. The poems are short, the language is simple; each poem contains a single poignant image. The people in Nikki Giovanni's poems are insulated from one another by carefully constructed walls of personal superiority: the old lady in "Conversation" is proud of the knowledge she assumes she has because of her advanced age; the woman in "And Another Thing" maintains an uncertain status by constantly talking. When a reader enters My House, he is invited to savor the poet's ideas about a meaningful existence in today's world.

John W. Conner, in English Journal, April, 1973, p. 650.

A lot of us moved into Blackness aided by Nikki's poems. And now, many of us are trying to stretch out and make it real and find ourselves. And we find ourselves in turns, at different times, confused, angered, mystified, saddened, delighted, disgusted and various other "-eds" by Nikki's new work. Which is because, somehow, Nikki has turned out to be a kind of person many of us never saw or expected her to be: Wow, not Nikki Giovanni?!

But wow, the relevance of Nikki Giovanni is that she is really not too quite different from how many of us see ourselves in our lonesome lanky watchtower hours….

My House is not just poems. My House is how it is, what it is to be a young, single, intelligent Black woman with a son and no man. Is what it is to be a woman who has failed and is now sentimental about some things, bitter about some things, and generally always frustrated, always feeling frustrated on one of various levels or another. And lost in life.

But—and we had better begin recognizing our oppression for what it is, for how it is—it is not enough to simply sing the blues. Lost love lyrics will not change our oppression, which is real and is planned every step, every tear, every pain/pleasure. Our poets do us a disservice when all they present is reactions to, rather than analyzations of, our collective oppression….

"The Inside Rooms" besides "Rituals" and a few other dreams and wishes is mostly romanticism come riding straight out the west/ern civilization literature…. And somehow the feeling is presented that if simple love can be achieved, well then, everything would be alright….

The philosophy of My House is strictly European literature regurgitated.

Kalumu Ya Salaam, in Black World (copyright © July, 1974, by Black World; reprinted by permission of Black World and Kalumu Ya Salaam), July, 1974, pp. 64-70.