20 pages 40 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Knoxville, Tennessee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

Formally, “Knoxville, Tennessee” falls under the category of free verse, meaning that it doesn't adhere to any conventional rhyme pattern or metrical scheme. This doesn’t mean the poem is without any rules at all, or that it's entirely lacking in formal constraints. Sometimes the poem scans as enjambed iambic pentameter across multiple lines. For example, “you can eat fresh corn / from daddy’s garden” (Lines 3-4) and “and lots of / barbecue / and buttermilk (Lines 8-10). Enjambed lines in iambic pentameter offer a sort of singsong quality to a poem of a childhood memory, which was a smart choice.

Another formal technique Giovanni incorporates is the use of enjambment. As opposed to end-stopped lines, which pause or fully stop when a line ends, enjambed lines run over into the next because their meaning is otherwise incomplete. For example, when Griovanni writes “and lots of / barbecue / and buttermilk” (Lines 8-10), the preposition “of” dangles at the end of Line 8. It’s syntactically incomplete and requires additional words to make sense.

Giovanni uses enjambment throughout the entire poem; the poem is sans any commas or periods (at the ends of lines or elsewhere within the lines).