20 pages 40 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Knoxville, Tennessee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “Knoxville, Tennessee”

“Knoxville, Tennessee” seems to start off in the present tense: “I always like summer” (Line 1). When more carefully read, though, one sees that this is not the present tense of the abstract present, as opposed to a past or a future. It’s the presence of an enduring, lingering preference. The speaker claims to “like summer / best” (Lines 1-2), and it’s this ongoing preference for summer that takes her back to her childhood down the rabbit hole of the logic of association. This ultimately indicates that the “I” of the poem, the speaker, has not fundamentally changed since childhood. There’s still a core of faith and familial love that has remained with her into her adult years. While the first-person perspective allows the reader to presume that Giovanni is the speaker of the poem, there are no identifying nor gender-specific details to insist this is the case. This, once again, affirms to the poem’s universal quality.

The first concrete detail the speaker offers as to why she best likes summer is because “you can eat fresh corn / from daddy’s garden” (Lines 3-4). She does not again mention her father in the poem, but this image is compelling: It allows the reader to understand that the speaker appreciates her father—she likely has a close relationship with him—and that he is an avid gardener.