“All I Gotta Do” by Nikki Giovanni

NikkiGiovanniI recently read in the newspaper that Nikki Giovanni will be speaking at the UNCA graduation ceremony. This brought back memories of when I got to hear Nikki speak while I was in college and I was fortunate enough to attend the National Collegiate Honors Society Conference in San Antonio, TX. I had not heard of her at the time, but my English professors were very excited upon hearing she was going to be there. I went out and bought a book of her poems before going: The Women and the Men. It’s a very good collection of poems and worth purchasing.

Anyway, I decided to read one of the poems from the book this morning, so I picked “All I Gotta Do.” It’s a short poem and it has a strong rhythm to it, which makes it easy to read. In fact, I read it twice. As you read it, you can sense the beat of the verse, almost like there are percussion instruments driving the rhythm of the poem.

As far as the content, I got the impression that Giovanni is describing what it feels to be a woman in a male-dominated society. She describes the frustration of waiting in a subservient manner and not being able to take an active role in her life.

what i need to do
is sit and wait
cause i’m a woman
sit and wait
what i gotta do
is sit and wait
cause i’m a woman

I think we have moved closer to equality for women since Nikki wrote this poem (the book was published in 1975, so I assume the poem was written around that time). Still, I don’t think we are there yet, which is why I think feminist literature is still important. Until women attain a truly equal status with men, we need writers like Nikki Giovanni to express the frustration of how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen.

Click here to read the poem online.


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