Poem Review: “Habit” By Nikki Giovanni


Here are reviews on one of the world’s famous poet’s poem.

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Nikki Giovanni, byname of Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr. (born June 7, 1943, Knoxville, Tenn., U.S.), is an African-American poet whose writings ranged from calls for violent revolution to poems for children and intimate personal statements.

Giovanni grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tenn., and in 1960 she entered Nashville’s Fisk University. By 1967, when she received her B.A., she was firmly committed to the Civil Rights Movement and the concept of black power. In her first three collections of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation(1970), her content was urgently revolutionary and suffused with deliberate interpretation of experience through a black consciousness.

Giovanni’s experiences as a single mother then began to influence her poetry. Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), Ego-Tripping(1973), and Vacation Time (1980) were collections of poems for children. Loneliness, thwarted hopes, and the theme of family affection became increasingly important in her poetry during the 1970s. She returned to political concerns in Those Who Ride the Night Winds (1983), with dedications to black American heroes and heroines.

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From the late 1960s Giovanni was a popular reader of her own poetry, with performances issued on several recordings, and a respected speaker as well. In Gemini(1971) she presented autobiographical reminiscences, and Sacred Cows . . . and Other Edibles (1988) was a collection of her essays


Poem by Nikki Giovanni | Habits

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i haven’t written a poem in so long
i may have forgotten how
unless writing a poem
is like riding a bike
or swimming upstream
or loving you
it may be a habit that once acquired
is never lost


but you say i’m foolish
of course you love me
but being loved of course
is not the same as being loved because
or being loved despite
or being loved


if you love me why
do i feel so lonely
and why do i always wake up alone
and why am i practicing
not having you to love
i never loved you that way



Theme:The poet discusses budding questions deep in the mind. It goes on like a conversation to be understood in future.

Simile: “is like riding a bike”

Metaphor: “swimming upstream”

Alliteration: but being (b alliterates)
…as being loved because (b alliterates)

Assonance: it may be a…. once acquired (a assonance)

Form: The poet does not obey any form here as each stanza could serve as a free verse. The poem carries a feeling of convincing words, a conversation between present and future.


Theme: Note to self and muse

Mood: Subtle remorse with an understanding that the poet’s muse is not entirely lost, but that there is a disconnect. It feels like she is just doing him a favour of being available, but there is distance, and it is weighing on the writer for she loves her muse unconditionally but feels that it is not reciprocated

Tone: Soft rhetorics asking hard questions as to why the love is one-sided

The poem is divided into three stanzas ( an octave and two sextets) with no particular syllable count

The octave introduces the poet’s distress; she has not written for a while,although she is aware that her muse is still within, “…a habit once acquired is never lost”

The first sextet then proceeds to buttress the points in the octave by accusing her muse/habit for loving her conditionally ( of course) which is more or less a favour- a thing the poet does not deem fit, for she’d rather be loved for something ‘because’ or even for his shortcomings ‘despite’

The second sextet is largely rhetorical,the poet is asking her muse the reasons why he loves her, noting that despite his love, she is most of the time her lonesome self

Poetic devices: Enjambment( the lines continued into each other)
Allusion ( first two lines)
Simile (unless writing a poem is like riding a bike)



It’s a beautiful piece that for me is quite interesting.
The poet employed different figures of speech like: anaphora, simile, climax, antithesis, metaphor and rhetorical question.

The poem has 3 stanzas: stanza one 8 lines, stanza two 6 lines, and stanza 3 6 lines.
Rhyme: no particular rhyme pattern.
Metre: stanza one 11,7,7,6,5,4,11,4.
Stanza two 6,5,6,9,6,4.
Stanza three 5,6,10,7,6,7, syllables per line in each stanza.

Tone: Can only be perceived and not detected because of the lack of punctuation.


Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr, often called Nikki Giovanni, is African-American poet. In an apprehensive mood, she chose to, in this intimate personal statement, define what a habit is and what it does. Following the title, the poet reveals that despite being a poet, writing poetry may not be a habit since “I haven’t written a poem in a long while.” This builds up to expose that a habit is a garment you wear like your hair; it’s often a part of you. This she likens to;

“…like riding a bike
or swimming upstream
or loving you…,” something that “once acquired is never lost.”

Nikki in a gentle tone questions her lover’s love for loving her. The repetitive use of “love” and “loved”, describes her current predicament and pushes forward the theme of conditional and almost unrequited love which has become a habit.

Nikki expects a love that is unquestionable, unconditional. A love that is “of course, because and despite.” She leans on the remaining thread of her love to wish that they practiced the habit of loving, because that way, they wouldn’t be so distant.

Accompanied by a sub theme of loneliness and desire, the poem has an unusual structure, wearing three stanzas of irregular lines and rhymes. The poem has in-rhymes like;

“i haven’t wrItTEN a pOem in sO long
i may have fOrgOTEN how
unless writING a poem
is lIKE ridING a bIKE
or swImmIng upstream
or lovING you”

Some other devices include repetition, simile, enjambment and apostrophe.


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