There are women who wait at the door until you arrive like you said you would. Women who stand at the screen with their elbows poking in at the wire like original tuning knobs made of fossilized walrus bone. There are women who wait at the door until your car rolls up in the yard, the engine cut, the headlights shut, the driver’s door cracking the air into two slices of brown bread. There are women who are known to stare from one pecan tree to another, all along the front walk, until the wobbly threshold is filled with the sound and the dirt of the shoes, of the one who left the war he was in to go fight a war he was not. There are women who arrive at the door early and stay later than anyone could dream in order to see who they have to see, first. Women who would rather be flunked or fired than miss the arrival of the one they have not seen, since the last time they saw her, without a baby in her arms, without a monkey on his back, without one dark piece of hammer hair crawling up his cheek like a new man. Ever & Present. She stands and waits at a woman’s specific tall attention, at the door with no peephole glass, waiting to say with her whole woman’s body: There is nothing more important than your arrival at my door, on this day, in this line of sight, at this hour, in this hot rain or midnight hour of sleet, in this moonshine, at this quicksilver ticking breath of regular stove clock and there is nothing you need to have in your arms and nothing you need say. Just fall here or step in. There are women who wait by the door like they were born by the door, like standing by the door and waiting in the frame of the door for a car light to pull in the yard is the only job they have ever had. These women shift from one foot to the other, lean on and into the dimpled wood of the front door never looking behind them to break the organ music of their waiting. They never move away from the door not even when the rooster and the hens start to squawk and move loud and frantic in the pen. They will not be distracted by the possibility of any backyard impending doom. They know the back door is not the front door where the number to the house wobbles every time the dimpled wood there opens and closes because that one missing nail is still missing. There are women who wait by the door who will not move from their waiting threshold and refuse to lend a hand, or an eye, to anything that is about to be slaughtered or lost back behind them—because the very reason they are at the front door, the very promise of what woke them up this morning, will any minute now appear in the future perfect, just like they always said they would, and that will make them, for the first time in a long time, slap the front of their velvet thighs because not one thing about the one who is finally standing there will have had to blow the horn or knock.

Copyright © 2020 by Nikky Finney. Published 2020 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Nikky Finney
Nikky Finney

"So—you can write pretty," Toni Cade Bambara tells the twenty-one-year-old Nikky Finney during a monthly writing circle that Bambara held in her Atlanta home during the 1980's. "But what else can your words do besides adorn?" This flat-footed question, put to the young poet by the great short story writer, at the beginning of her career, sets her sailing toward a life of aiming her words to do more than pearl and decorate the page. She follows the path, beyond adornment, that Bambara lived and taught—a writing life rooted in empathetic engagement and human reciprocity. Nikky Finney has been a faculty member at Cave Canem summer workshop for African American poets; a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a particular place for poets of color in Appalachia; poet and professor for twenty-three years at the University of Kentucky; and visiting professor at Berea and Smith Colleges. She won the PEN American Open Book Award in 1996 and the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award for the Arts in South Carolina in 2016. She edited Black Poets Lean South, a Cave Canem anthology (2007) authored On Wings Made of Gauze (1985), Rice (1995), Heartwood (1997), The World Is Round (2003), and Head Off & Split, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry. Her acceptance speech has become a thing of legend, described by the 2011 NBA host, John Lithgow, as "the best acceptance speech ever–for anything." In her home state of South Carolina she involves herself in the day-to-day battles for truth and justice while also guiding both undergraduates and MFA students at the University of South Carolina where she is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters, with appointments in both the Department of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies Program, which she proudly notes is forty-six years strong. Nikky Finney's work, in book form and video, including her now legendary acceptance speech, is on display in the inaugural exhibition of the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. You will find her in the poet's corner, directly across from Chuck Berry’s 1973 candy apple red Cadillac Eldorado. Finney's work includes the arenas of Black girl genius unrecognized, Black history misplaced and forgotten, and the stories of women who prefer to jump instead of ride the traditional tracks of polite and acceptable society. In her full body of poetry and storytelling, she explores the whispers and shouts of sexuality, the invisibility of poverty in a world continually smitten by the rich and the powerful, the graciousness of Black family perseverance, the truth of history, the grace and necessity of memory, as well as the titanic loss of habitat for all things precious and wild.

The new decade is here and so is Nikky's new book. Love Child's Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (pub date April 15, 2020) is her first poetry collection since winning the National Book Award in 2011. In addition to the poems, there are hotbeds, a horticulture term introducing her readers to her journals, the place where most of her poems have always found their calcium and strong knees. There are also artifacts, images and photographs, that assist the words in composing how the poet's poet-life came to be. Over the last 30 years each and every Nikky Finney book has always been wonderfully different but this long awaited new minglement of word and image crafts a new kind of American poesy.

Visit Nikky's Press Kit Page for high-resolution photos & more.

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