Study Guide

A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long Stanza 1

By Nikki Giovanni

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Stanza 1

Lines 1-7

At a time when there was not tv before 3:00 P.M.
And on Sunday none until 5:00
We sat on the front porches watching
The jfg sign go on and off greeting
The neighbors, discussing the political
Situation congratulating the preacher
On his sermon

  • Giovanni does some amazing scene-setting in this first stanza
  • We learn about her family's way of life in Knoxville—as background to her love of reading—and how she came to love the jazz music that provided the rhythm for many of her future poems. 
  • Her memories engage our senses with the image of the flashing JFG coffee sign (a fixture to this day in Knoxville) and the sounds of her relatives making small-talk on the porch. 
  • Note that Dr. Giovanni is not crazy about things like capitalization of proper nouns or punctuation, though.
  • She's all about storytelling and following the rhythms of natural speech. By eliminating unnecessary punctuation and de-emphasizing proper nouns, she's able to mimic the speech of those jaw-sessions she talks about in line 5.
  • Giovanni also uses enjambment rather than end-stopped lines to preserve the flow of this speech. 
  • This means you have to be sure to pick up all the phrases that go together and put them in the same mental basket to make sense of the lines. You also have to insert punctuation where you might need it. For example, this happens at the end of line 2, where we could really use a comma. 
  • It's a lot of work, but remember that Giovanni's poems are almost always performance pieces. She intends for them to be spoken aloud, rather than read from the page.

Lines 8-16

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

  • Giovanni continues setting the scene by describing the ambiance. She lists her favorite radio station (WLAC) and the names of her most beloved musicians.
  • Giovanni also does some cool space/time continuum leaping in here. 
  • While she's clearly remembering the past ("At a time when there was not tv"), she also shows the effect of the past on the present (doesn't she love black coffee now, in the present day?). 
  • It's a playful way of showing an early influence that affected her as an adult.
  • There's more enjambment in these lines—make sure you hang on to lines 9-10 ("what we would now call") until you get the completion in line 15 ("it was just called music").

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