Study Guide

A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long Sound Check

By Nikki Giovanni

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Sound Check

Our best advice to give you when dealing with a Nikki Giovanni poem is this: listen to her read and perform her poetry. While there doesn't seem to be a recording of this exact poem, you can still get the idea of how her work sounds by listening to "Nikki Rosa," one of her most famous poems. Once you hear how she intends these poems to sound, you'll start hearing all kinds of cool things.

But we're not going to let you off the hook just yet, because Giovanni does employ some specific techniques to stimulate your hearing and sense of rhythm. First, she opts out of punctuation and uses enjambment freely. This helps the poem flow rapidly, like a tumble of words (or memories) falling from the poet.

In fact, it might make you gasp for breath when you read out loud. A prime example of this is the back half of stanza 1:

There was always the radio which brought us
Songs from wlac in nashville and what we would now call
Easy listening or smooth jazz but when I listened
Late at night with my portable (that I was so proud of)
Tucked under my pillow
I heard nat king cole and matt dennis, june christy and ella fitzgerald
And sometimes sarah vaughan sing black coffee
Which I now drink
It was just called music

As we point out over in "Form and Meter," the effect of this enjambment is to rush the reader on from the end of one line to the start of another, giving the lines a kind of breathless energy.

Sound-wise, Giovanni also uses alliteration to accentuate the meanings of her words. Take a look at the opening of stanza 6:

But she nonetheless brought the books
Back and I held them to my chest
Close to my heart
And happily skipped back to grandmother's house

The repetition of the beginning B sounds in lines 33-34 has a great bounce to it, just like the skipping of the happy girl as she goes home with her treasures. The poem brings more alliteration into play in line 38, with the mention of the "gray glider" on grandmother's porch. And stanza 7 is just jam-packed with W alliteration: "world," "where," "was," "warm," "when," and "way."

So what's with all the sound play here? Well, we think the answer is in that question: "play." As we mention in the "Summary," Giovanni is putting forth memories of her childhood that were filled with love and happiness. The play with sound here, much like the play of a child, is an expression of that same kind of joy. It makes total sense, then, that we get so many happy sounds in this celebration of an important influence on the poet's life growing up.

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