Although Nikki Giovanni’s reputation as a revolutionary poet is based upon this work, fewer than half of its poems address the theme of revolution. Critics point to often quoted incendiary poems in this collection to indicate Giovanni’s revolutionary stance. They also note the poems about political figures and poems addressing black identity to illustrate Giovanni’s militancy. These poems are important in this volume, but they are not Giovanni’s sole concern.
What has been overlooked are the highly personal poems. In tallying the themes that appear in this work, it becomes apparent that love, loss, and loneliness are important to Giovanni. She also writes personal tributes and reminiscences to those who helped shape her life and ideology. Then there are Giovanni’s personal responses to political events. She mourns the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. She states that the 1960’s were one long funeral day. She also notes atrocities in Germany, Vietnam, and Israel and compares them to 1960’s America.
Black Feeling, Black Talk, then, is a compilation of political and personal poetry. Amid calls for revolution and affirmations of blackness are an insistence on maintaining one’s individuality in the face of the political. There is also the importance of acknowledging the contributions of others in one’s development. Thus, what is central to Giovanni’s revolution is helping people to think about new ways of viewing and understanding their lives, personally and politically. Black Feeling, Black Talk is not a call for revolution that will destroy the world. The book is about how people, in the words of its final poem, may “build what we can become when we dream.”