Nikki Giovanni Poetry Analysis

Since beginning her career in the late 1960s, Nikki Giovanni has been a unique and innovative voice in poetry. With a body of work that includes poems advocating racial equality, children's poetry collections and introspective, personal pieces, her versatility and creativity are hallmarks of her unique, personal writing style. You can analyze Giovanni's poetry according to structure, use of figurative language and the social consciousness of her work.

Free Verse

Free verse is a form that lacks strict meter, creating its own unique arrangement of language. No two poems by Giovanni look the same; she structures poems based on rhythmic effect and subject matter. The result of this structure is a conversational writing style that makes readers feel as though she is sharing her poetic insights directly with them. "Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day," about a speaker lamenting her inability to keep her life together, uses free verse visually; just as the speaker feels she is "fading away," the lines "fade" between short and long.


Along with creative arrangement of lines, Giovanni uses repetition to create rhythm in her work. She often repeats words, phrases or ideas for the purpose of emphasizing theme. In "Choices," she repeats the words "do," "want," "go" and "feel" to enforce the idea that if something you desire isn't possible, the best solution is to be content with the present. In "Ego Tripping," each line begins with the word "I," followed by active verbs like "walked," "designed" and "gazed." Here, the repetition of "I" reflects the piece's title, making the poem a resume of the speaker's experiences.

Social Consciousness

In 1968, the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. sparked an emotional fuse in Giovanni's work. Her early poetry forcefully addresses racial prejudice and presents a call to action for readers. In "Poem (No Name No. 2)," Giovanni uses alliterative variations on the phrase "black bitterness" to create a militant protest against racism. In 2007, Giovanni was a professor at Virginia Tech at the time of the deadly school shooting, and wrote "We Are Virginia Tech" in response to the tragedy.

Extended Metaphors

An extended metaphor is a figure of speech that sustains a comparison between two different things throughout a work. Giovanni's poetry is known for using this tool in ways that surprise and delight readers. In "Kidnap Poem," she uses kidnapping as a metaphor for the act of writing poetry. Using poetic terms like "meter," "lyric" and "dash," she uses the techniques of her genre to describe her plan for taking the reader captive with her words. The metaphor ultimately communicates the power of poetry to command readers' attention and emotions.

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