Reading Pathways: The Best Nikki Giovanni Poems

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Alison Doherty

Senior Contributor

Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.

I was 15 when a friend and I found Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni in our school library. We took turns reading them out loud. Nikki Giovanni’s poems were completely different from anything I’d studied in school. In fact, they changed my entire understanding of what poetry could be. Nikki Giovanni self-published her first volumes of poetry, Black Feelings, Black Talk and Black Judgement, in 1968. Nikki Giovanni poems grew out of her feelings about the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcom X, as well as the loss of her own grandmother. Since then she’s produced almost 20 books of poetry, along with multiple nonfiction works and children’s books.

Here are nine* of my favorite Nikki Giovanni poems that feel like a good place to start among her long, important body of work. I hope when you read them, you feel like I did at 15 discovering her for the first time.

Get to know the poetry of Nikki Giovanni with this guide to her best poems. book lists | poetry | nikki giovanni poetry | poems by nikki giovanni | best nikki giovanni poems

Where to Start With Nikki Giovanni Poems: Her Ten Best*

1. Poem for a Lady Whose Voice I Like


so he said: you ain’t got no talent

if you didn’t have a face
you wouldn’t be nobody

and she said: god created heaven and earth
and all that’s Black within them

2. You Came, Too


I came to the crowd seeking friends
I came to the crowd seeking love
I came to the crowd for understanding

I found you

3. A Good Cry

4. Dreams


in my younger years
before i learned
black people aren’t
suppose to dream
i wanted to be
a raelet

5. A Poem of Friendship


We are not lovers
because of the love
we make
but the love
we have

6. I Wrote A Good Omelette


I wrote a good omelet…and ate
a hot poem… after loving you
Buttoned my car…and drove my
coat home…in the rain…
after loving you

7. Ego Tripping

8. Nikki-Rosa


childhood remembrances are always a drag
if you’re Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have
your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath

9. Knoxville, Tennessee


I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy’s garden
and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of

Next Read: More Beautiful Nikki Giovanni Poems

For a next step in your Nikki Giovanni exploration, I suggest you start with Bicycles: Love Poems, A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter, or, for a more comprehensive look at her writing, The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni. And for younger readers interested in poetry, I highly recommend Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat.

*The term best is highly subjective. These are ten poems I find beautiful and representative of Giovanni’s work. But I don’t have the hubris to assume I can actually be the judge of what her best writings are.

*Editor’s Note: This post originally credited the poem “Mercy” to Nikki Giovanni in error; “Mercy, after Nikki Giovanni” was written by Rudy Francisco and can be found in  Helium.