Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
(Morrow, $12.00, PG-13) ISBN 0-688-14989-8
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If you are what you read, then I am -- to an extent -- Barbara Neely mysteries, Beverly Jenkins romances, Tina McElroy Ansa novels and Nikki Giovanni poetry. Perhaps no writer epitomizes the period of the late sixties and early seventies for me better than Nikki Giovanni. Her essays and poetry capture life’s passion, power, truths and absurdities.

Love Poems is a collection of poetry written between 1968 and 1997. Some are familiar, others are not. Love Poems is divided into three sections: “I Hope Its Love,” “And Yeah...These Are Love Poems,” and “I Take Master Card Charge Your Love to Me.” As the section titles indicate, Giovanni has not lost her edge. A cancer survivor, she deals with a heart sickness of sorts in “Cancers (not necessarily a love poem). She can write a poem for Langston Hughes or for Tupac Shakur without contradictions.

In “Love Is,” the poet wants to make sure we’re clear about what love can be.

Some people forget that love is
tucking you in and kissing you `Good Night’
no matter how young or old you are...

Verses from three decades of the poet’s work are included within each section. A range of emotions from romantic love, to love of country, friends, children and family are explored.

Giovanni contemplates love that might have been, love that is...

I see the old photographs and I am smiling and I’m sure quite
happy but what I mostly see is me
through your eyes
and I am still young and slim and very much committed to the
love we still have

...and love that never will be and love that was...

You were gone
like the years between
twenty-five and thirty
as if somehow
You never existed
and if it wouldn’t be
for the gray hairs
I’d never know that

You had come

The poet also deals with the limitations of the medium.

How do you write a poem
about someone so close to you that when you say ahhhhh
they say chuuuuu
what can they ask you to put
on paper that isn’t already written
on your face
and does the paper make it
any more real..

. So why didn’t my favorite poet get five hearts for this volume of love poems? Of the more than fifty poems in Love Poems, one of her most popular and one my personal favorites, “Nikki Rosa” with its oft quoted line “Black love is Black wealth” is not included in this volume of poetry. But, now that my whining is over, Love Poems will be on the top shelf in the midst of my Nikki Giovanni collection.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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