Nikki (Yolande Cornelia) Giovanni has made an enormous impact on African American literature. She uses her own experiences to write wonderful poetry. In the poem “Nikki-Rosa,” Nikki Giovanni writes the opposite about her growing up in her family.
When I first read this poem, I pictured a poverty-stricken family living in a small apartment, much like the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun. Evidently, the family is poor because they have no inside toilet and take baths in “one of those/ big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in” (10-11). The family is not as concerned about poverty as they are for their love for one another,
“And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that
and though they fought a lot
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good
The poem reveals a good family does have its problems. I got the feeling the children in the poem loved living where they lived although their parents weren’t the richest, or they didn’t live in the nicest house. The children realized that there was more to life than having a pleasant house and delightful things. The children in the poem realize that family life is more important than material objects.
The poem “Nikki-Rosa” was written based on the life of Nikki Giovanni. Nikki Giovanni’s childhood was very much different that the one described in the poem. Giovanni was raised in a middle class family, although she did learn of poverty from her parents who happened to be social workers (Wiedemann 1500). Her childhood could be described as very happy (Great 178). Giovanni’s world in her poetry is an extension of her real life. Often, she sees herself existing among tensions. Biographers who write about Nikki Giovanni always comment on the poverty of the family, her parent’s fighting, and note her father’s alcoholism, but almost never comment on the closeness of her family or the richness of a strong, supportive family (Wiedemann 1499). “[I]t isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference/ but only that everybody is together” (23-24). This line in the poem sums up very well the feeling of family in the home of Nikki Giovanni during her childhood. The poem is not autobiographical of Giovanni’s life, but it does parallel the development of her radical conscious (Wiedemann 1500).
“Nikki-Rosa” is a typical example of a poem by Nikki Giovanni. She writes about what she knows and what she has experienced. The poetry of Giovanni is related to issues African-Americans face on a daily basis. According to Don L. Lee, she knows the need for Black awareness, unity, and, solidarity; she has lived through it, and knows a change can be affected. (182) Nikki Giovanni’s poetry contains no punctuation, symbolizing a continuous thought (Wiedemann 1499). Typically there is no form in her poetry. A wide audience has read her poems because of the simplicity of the language used and the imagery of everyday life (Wiedemann 1499). Giovanni rarely uses difficult symbols and avoids the usage of complex vocabulary to convey the meaning of her poetry, especially “Nikki-Rosa” (Wiedemann 1500).
Barbara Wiedemann comments that “Nikki-Rosa” hints at the division of whites and blacks (1500). In Wiedemann’s interview with Giovanni, she states that whites cannot understand the black experience, and because of the power structure in America, whites should be held accountable for the poverty experienced by the black population. Giovanni believes differences in education cause poverty, a lack of social services, and discrimination. (1500) This poem, written the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death is supposed to represent a young person growing up in an impoverished family who later becomes a black activist. The Nikki in the poem is not Nikki Giovanni. However, Rosa is Rosa Parks, the same Rosa who, in 1955, refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman. Giovanni writes about these kinds of things because she herself has attended antiwar demonstrations, the Civil Rights Movement, and various riots throughout the nation. These and other events such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy helped to radicalize Nikki Giovanni (Wiedemann 1500).
Nikki Giovanni uses her knowledge of subjects related blacks to write her poetry. Within her poetry, she emphasizes the importance of family and love in the family to create a success. In her own family, she had two loving parents and siblings. She used her knowledge and experience to write the poem “Nikki-Rosa.” Giovanni is a poet who wrote about what she knew the most about, black culture and the importance of family. Works Consulted
Giovanni, Nikki. Gemini. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1971.