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Since I had not read Nikki Giovanni before, and since she was coming to speak and I was planning to go, and because her new book, Chasing Utopia was all checked out from the library, I borrowed her book Bicycles: Love Poems.

Contrary to the title, the poems are not about bicycles nor do they have anything to do with bicycles. A note at the beginning of the book lets the reader know what to expect:

Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance.

I don’t think I have ever read a whole book of love poems like this before. Sure, some of them are about the end of love or wishing love would stop because the relationship is causing pain, but most of them are about being in love, about desire and longing, or about wanting to be in love.

The poems tend to be short in length and line with few commas or stops so they have a fast pace. Even poems about the travails of love are quick, though they do tend to have a sharper edge to them.

Some of the poems are cheeky like “Give it a go?” which has several stanzas about polishing silver, washing crystal and painting fingernails and ends:

In order to properly care for things
They must be loved
And touched

Want to give it
A go?

Some are playful. “First chair” begins:

They say I’m too jazzy
For First Chair

I bring something different
And maybe something nice

But the orchestra is Baroque
And I am Gospel

A few are, like “Trash pans”, you-done-me-wrong poems:

I need to keep a trash pan near my bed…
so that when the lies come…
I can sweep them up and take them to the toilet…
no sense in letting them stay around…
to hurt my feelings…
bodies tell untruths with shrugs…
smiles…
and tongue…
maybe there should be a little bitty trash pan…
for your little untruthful heart…

And a good many are like “Where do you enter” which begins

Where do you enter
A poem

At the same place
I enter you
with balance
and trust
and a jazzy sense
of adventure

And in the middle it suggests

We begin a poem
with longing
and end with
responsibility

And laugh
all through the storms
that are bound
to come

Obviously a poem about more than reading a poem!

Bicycles is a wonderful collection. I am so glad Giovanni came to town because I don’t know when I would have finally gotten around to reading her if she hadn’t. I look forward to reading more of her work.

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