20 pages 40 minutes read

Nikki Giovanni

Knoxville, Tennessee

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1968

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In the context of "Knoxville, Tennessee," sensation primarily relates to food, which is freely and abundantly found:

“and okra
and greens
and cabbage
and lots of
and buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream” (Lines 5-11).

Listing these gustatory images, the speaker details a small feast in which anyone would be fortunate to partake. But the poem’s speaker originally discovers these foods through kinship. Her father first introduces her to the crops from his private garden; here, the speaker learns to freely take and eat what her father lovingly provided for her. As the listing of tasty foods continues, the reader realizes that the foods and vegetables mentioned are not only for her, the speaker, but for a greater community bound together by a shared sense of spirituality.

In the next lines, sensation becomes equated with sweetness (rather than with wholesome vegetables), which is associated more with public festivity than the private pleasures discovered in the speaker’s father’s garden:

“[...] buttermilk
and homemade ice-cream
at the church picnic” (Lines 9-11).

This sensation of sweetness—which is quite different from that offered by fibrous vegetables—is specific to a certain place. It's at the church that the speaker experiences this sensation, and it’s contextualized as food shared by a whole community.