Poetry is the most intense and concentrated form of writing, using words, metre, rhyme and format to express thoughts, feelings and ideas that can be fact or fiction. It gets at the marrow of truth and truth-telling using words to create an image, not a picture, of an idea. In expository/essay writing, a subject statement is presented, then followed with paragraphs that have content to support the subject. An essay takes the time and space to implore, convince and to tell you something. Poetry slams on the brakes and makes you reconsider what was written. It may very well make you look up words in a dictionary because you do not understand the meaning of the most ordinary words as used in a poem. Both forms have their times, places and can be potent when done well. Nikki Giovanni is just the writer who can capture thoughts, feelings and ideas in both poetry and prose, which is what she has done in her most recent book.
When looking at historical facts she does not pivot, instead she is an asteroid whooshing around giving us unimagined ways to think about past and recent history, racism, injustice, black history, white history, humanity's history, and the great big universe.
In “The Blues," “Some folk think the blues / Is a song or a way / Of singing / But the blues is history.” She comments that it is often thought to be how someone’s man or woman left them or took their money, but the real meaning is about being stolen, “And ignorantly sold / Probably not / Realizing to a new world / But the Lord is Good / And gave us a song / To tell our story.”
Two poems are especially relevant for the here-and-now. In "Vote", there are variations on a refrain, "It's a Vote / Saying you are / A citizen" interspersed with where, why, and who should be able to vote, and what was sacrificed in life and limb to validate, "All Men Were Created Equal." In "Raise Your Hand (in favor of immigrants)," she gives us some interesting questions about what we assume about immigrants, "how many of you sitting / here / think some woman of color / Black Brown Yellow White / woke up this morning thinking / "Goooolly ... I can go to the airport / and clean toilets?" / Raise your right hand." At the very end of this poem, she punches us with unvarnished truth-telling.
There are personal poems for an aunt, for a mother, for sisters, for grandmothers, for friends; poems about: rape, slavery, racism, fear; an essay about the reason to write told in a lyrical narrative style; poems about leaders and artists: Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Tupac, Barack Obama; poems about events: 1619 Jamestown, Ferguson: The Musical, The Million Man March; poems observing nature and the universe. A mischievous poem, "De-Planeing," about where we need to go when we get off an airplane, and what happens to Ms. Giovanni when she gets there.
A poem of pure joy and delight is “America” and not what you might expect, but a listing of foods in five stanzas that have a metre and beat to each stanza that ends in “America / America / My home / Sweet / Home." A fine first poem for a young person to memorize and share when we gather together with friends and families this spring and summer.