Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Nikki-Rosa” introduces several themes that are important to the poem, to Giovanni’s other poems, and to her development as a poet. “Nikki-Rosa” first appeared in Black Judgement (1968), which contains both revolutionary poems and brief, introspective lyrics. The political poems from the volume received the most critical attention and earned for Giovanni the reputation of a radical militant. Her work was discussed as part of the “new Black poetry of hate.” These poems were the result of anger caused by the continued oppression of blacks, and the poems urged violence, black assertiveness, aggression, and black pride. Nevertheless, the lyrics, with their emphasis on the individual and on relationships, prefigure her later work.

“Nikki-Rosa” contains both elements and therefore bridges the gap between the two styles. The poem, written on April 12, 1968, a few days after the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., hints at the division between whites and blacks: “I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me.” Whites cannot understand the black experience. In addition, because of the power structure in America, whites should be held accountable for the poverty that is experienced by many blacks, poverty caused by an inferior education, lack of social services, and discrimination.

“Nikki-Rosa” presents the childhood of a girl from an impoverished family who later will become a black activist. Nikki, the young girl, will grow up to be...

(The entire section is 614 words.)