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Bicycles

Love poetry as the antidote to the craziness of the world.

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Any book by Nikki Giovanni is likely to make the bestseller list, but Bicycles benefits from both serendipitous timing and what could be called the “lightning factor.” Ms. Giovanni’s tone and subject matter offer readers a flash of light and heat, as well as the promise of much-needed relief from difficult times and issues.

The book begins and ends with violence: two shootings, a year apart, that stunned the campus of Virginia Tech, where Giovanni teaches. In “Blacksburg Under Siege: 21 August 2006,” the opening poem, Giovanni conveys what locals experienced – from anger to cold, almost detached fear – but says of both emotion and analysis that “it sure doesn’t make us safe.”

Giovanni then takes a sharp, unexpected turn out of the darkness with “In Simpler Times.” The title alone brings a sigh of relief, as does the speaker’s benign acknowledgment that:

I talk to myself

People think I am on my phone
In simpler days
I would have been considered                strange
people would feel sorry
For me.

Readers don’t feel sorry for her, though, because she lightens their experience – and her own – with an enviable admission: “It’s easy to see/ The delight I am taking/ In this life/ I am always smiling/ I am in love.”

From there, Giovanni explores various aspects of romantic love: longing to be with her beloved, aching when they are apart, missing opportunities for closeness, and feeling that the whole world shimmers and moves to silent rhythms. In “Migrations,” one of the strongest poems, she explores those forces – call them instinct? – that drive wild creatures from one seasonal home to another.

The poem begins:

The sun returns

To the arctic circle
From its winter rest

The grasses sprout
Seducing the winged
And the hoofed

Polar bears and their cubs
Must flee
Before the ice
Breaks up...

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