(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“My House” is the title poem of Giovanni’s 1972 book of poems and concludes the collection with a forthright statement of the poet’s freedom to live by her own rules. Furthermore, she is willing and capable of accepting the responsibilities for her choices, as is clear when Giovanni asserts that “i run the kitchen/ and i can stand the heat.”

On the surface, “My House” seems to be hodge-podge, a haphazard collection of comments on everything from love to individuality to the inadequacy of the English language to express emotions. A more careful reading, however, uncovers a more conscious blend of seeming incongruent parts, akin to the quilting motif used in the poem, into a bold statement of independence. This concern for individual worth and self-expression that characterizes the poems in My House becomes even more pronounced in subsequent works, For example, in “My House,” Giovanni adopts a stance shared by many later feminists, that of challenging the idea of the male as name-giver. This challenge is evident when the speaker asserts:

i mean it’s my houseand i want to fry pork chopsand bake sweet potatoesand call them yams.

Precisely put, since this is her house, she will accept no compromise; thus, she asserts the validity of a female name-giver, and, by extension, the validity of an Afrocentric perspective in American culture (varieties of what are commonly called “sweet potatoes” in American culture are known as “yams” in African cultures). Here again, Giovanni offers a revolutionary interpretation of black life in the United States. She underscores this interpretation emphatically as she vows to

smile at old men and callit revolution cause what’s realis really real.

“My House” is one of Giovanni’s most popular poems and shows her at once at her most playful and most serious self.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beason, Tyrone. “Survival of the Baddest: Poet and Activist Nikki Giovanni Keeps Her ’60s Spirit Intact for a New Generation.” The Seattle Times, January 15, 2004, p. C1.

Davis, Arthur P. “The New Poetry of Black Hate.” In Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald B. Gibson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Fowler, Virginia C. Nikki Giovanni. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Jago, Carol. Nikki Giovanni in the Classroom: “The Same Ol Danger but a Brand New Pleasure.” Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999.

Josephson, Judith P. Nikki Giovanni: Poet of the People. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2003.

“Nikki Giovanni.” In Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry, edited by Felicia Mitchel. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002.

Washington, Elsie B. “Nikki Giovanni: Wisdom for All Ages.” Essence 24 (March, 1994): 67.