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Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni

As soon as I saw the original 1978 cover of Nikki Giovanni’s, Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, I cringed a little. The upper right corner is millennial pink, that ubiquitous color that has come to define a generation incredibly obsessed with itself(ie). My head started swirling with images of poems I’ve seen floating around on IG after hitting that “Follow” button on a few instafamous poets. I won’t name names cause I don’t want to be that bitch who talks shit about your new favorite poet (although I am), nor do I want to be that hater who can’t get down with emerging, badly needed voices in the world of poetry.

But I was holding Nikki Giovanni’s book after all, not scrolling on my phone. Nikki, whose work flourished in the Civil Rights era, one of the most prominent poets of the Black Arts Movement, a distinguished professor, author of dozens of books, recipient of so many awards, even keys to entire cities. Nikki, not anyone else.

A wave of intimidation replaced my pettiness as soon as I opened Cotton Candy. My readerly disposition apparently vacillates between two rudimentary states. In the eponymous poem that starts the collection, I found myself immediately in awe of what makes Nikki’s poetry essential: its ability to balance the personal and the political, to see them as one and the same. A poetry of revolution and revolutionary self-care. Indeed the poem “Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day” unfurls as a confession, capturing interiors enough to make you sign up for the Sad Gurls Por Vida club. After it pulls you in, though, it expands, constellates, informs:

It seems no matter how 

I try to become more difficult 

to hold 

I am not an easy woman 

to want 

They have asked 

the psychiatrists...psychologists 

politicians and social workers 

What this decade will be 

known for 

There is no doubt...it is 


This is the broad and compacted thread woven throughout this collection. The poems extract intimacy from familiar emotions of love, loss, and longing and place them in close contact to the history—which is to say, the materiality—of Nikki’s world. She writes about being a Black woman seeing the world, and of being seen by the world. Averse to a kind of tiresome abstraction, I found reading her work as simple as breathing. Her poetry is not just about untangling complexities or deconstructing identities—it also relishes the banality of our lives as human beings:

i know i’m unhappy 

most of the time 

nothing an overdose 

of sex won’t cure of course 

but since i’m responsible 

i barely have an average 


You gotta give it to Nikki to keep it real, even in the midst of momentous historical tides. That while there are protests and social revolutions happening, she finds and dictates an inherent power in keeping oneself grounded. And it can be done by an acknowledgment of what we feel at the moment, whether it’s an overdose of sex or not.

how do poets write 

so many poems 

my poems get decimated 

in the dishes the laundry 

my sister is having another crisis the bed has to be made 

there is a blizzard on the way go to the grocery store 

did you go to the cleaners 

then a fuse blows 

a fuse always has to blow 

the women soon find themselves 

talking either to babies or about them 

no matter how careful we are 

we end up giving tips 

on the latest new improved cleaner 

and the lotion that will take the smell away 

It takes a lot of courage to bring ourselves up to a level that says: “This is who I am at the moment, whether people like it or not. This is what I need at the moment.” What’s becoming clearer to me is that it’s okay to be blatant and unpoetic about it because after all, that’s where the real poetry lies. Not in the line breaks, not in the awkwardly placed punctuation marks. I’m no expert but I feel what I feel. And maybe I’m doing them IG poets a disservice—a brown girl dissing other brown girls—but shoot, I read what I read. Feel what I feel. Unfollow who I want to unfollow. That’s how Nikki would have it. That’s how I do.—Pia Cortez

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