Two Poems by Nikki Giovanni


For the cover of a collection of poems by his friend Nikki Giovanni, the prominent writer, educator, and civil rights activist, Bryan painted a musician waist-deep in water, surrounded by a golden aura. He used a similar composition in the collage he created to illustrate Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” in Sail Away.

Ashley Bryan (1923–2022)
Cover for The Sun Is So Quiet, 1995
Tempera and gouache
University of Pennsylvania, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Ashley Bryan Papers

Copyright(c) 2017 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
© 2022 The Ashley Bryan Center. Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved


Sandy Campbell: The poet Nikki Giovanni and Ashley were friends for many years, and they worked on numerous projects together. In this recording, you’ll hear two poems by Giovanni, one that she wrote in honor of Ashley’s 90th birthday and a second poem for Langston Hughes, whose work both she and Ashley admired greatly.

Nikki Giovanni: Ashley Bryan, on the joyous celebration of his 90th birthday. One head, not too big. Two eyes, though one will do, but at least one. Two ears, not necessarily other than for balance. Broad shoulders, we are after all describing a man. Two hands, two arms, surely only half needed, but with strong teeth, not even that. Two legs, two feet, mostly for locomotion. But again, consider the options. One mostly travels in one's head. And of course, a heart, a very big heart with two pockets, one to pump and a side pocket to deposit and dispense love. Don't forget a smile and a hearty laugh wrapped up in gentleness. Ashley.

A poem, for Langston Hughes. Diamonds are mined. Oil is discovered. Gold is found but thoughts are uncovered. Wool is sheared. Silk is spun, weaving is hard but words are fun. Highways span. Bridges connect. Country roads ramble, but I suspect if I took a rainbow ride I could be there by your side. Metaphor has its point of view, allusions and illusions too. Meter, verse, classical, free, poems are what you do to me. Let's look at this one more time, since I put this rap to rhyme. When I take my rainbow ride, you'll be right there at my side. Hey bop, hey bop, hey, ri ri bop.