Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nikki Giovanni - Poem for a Lady of Leisure Now Retired

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents the words and a sound file of Nikki Giovanni's 1972 composition "Poem for a Lady of Leisure Now Retired".

The content of this post is presented for inspirational and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remains with their owners.


Nikki Govanni's "Poem for a Lady of Leisure..." (Must Jesus...) - A T Short #18 (480p HQ)

ATBigger, Uploaded on Aug 1, 2010

Video number eighteen in the A T Short series: Nikki Giovanni reads her poem "Poem for a Lady of Leisure Now Retired" accompanied by the music of the New York Community Choir. Each A T Short has its own message (sometimes two: one musical and one visual), and because each A T Short video has a different message, you may not like all of them, but you will like enough of them.

(Nikki Giovanni)

This is a poem for an old prostitute that I know
who lives at the top of my building.
Some small island birthed her
and a big probably White ship took her from mother
to come to America’s re creation.
She lives in the top of my building.
I only know her through her eyes.
She is old now
not only from years
but from aging.
One gets the impression she was most beautiful
and like a good wine or a semi precious jewel
touted out for the pleasure of those who could afford
her re creation.
Her head is high
but the set of her mouth shows it’s not easy.
She asks nothing,
seems to have something to give,
but no one to give it to
if ever she gave it to anyone.

Age requires happy memories,
like Lavinia smiled when she died.
And though her doctor had told her not to
there was pork cooking on the stove.
There’s so many new mistakes for a lady of pleasure
that can be made.
It shouldn’t be necessary to repeat the old ones.
And it was cold on the elevator that morning
when I spoke to her and foolishly asked
“How are you?”
She smiled and tilted her head.
“At least” I said “the sun is shining”.
And her eyes smiled “Yes”.
And I was glad to be there to say to her
through spirits,
there is a new creation”.

I believe that the "new creation" in the last line of this poem is an oblique reference for Newark, New Jersey, a large metropolitan community that is near New York City. In the late 1960s and 1970s Newark was the site of a Black cultural nationalist organization, the Committee For Unified Newark" [CFUN], that was headed by the well known poet/playright/activist Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones). As such, and in no small part because of the positive connotations that could easily be made from that city's name, Newark, New Jersey was considered by Nikki Giovanni and some other persons in the Black cultural nationalists movement as a prototype for a city where [some] Black people had knowledge of and pride in their African heritage, and strived to adhere to the values of unity, self-determination, collective work & responsibility and other principles that are incapsulated in Maulana Karenga's Nguza Saba.*

Notice how Nikki Giovanni uses "new ark" - a form of the name "Newark" in her poem "Ego Trippin":
"My son noah built new/ark/..."

*Click for a listing of the Nguza Saba (Seven Principles) which are also used as the names of the seven days of the Kwanzaa Holiday (Dec. 26-January 1).

Click for information about Nikki Giovanni.

Click for information about the song
"Must Jesus Bare The Cross Alone"

Thanks to Nikki Giovanni for composing this poem and other poems. Thanks to the New York Community Choir for their performance of the Gospel song "Must Jesus Bare The Cross Alone". My thanks also for the producer & uploader of this video.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. This poem is not accurate the title is even wrong and there are added phrases in the real copy right poem by nikki giovanni she never out right states that the poem is about an old prostitute.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      As a result of your comment I listened to the sound file again, spotted two mistakes in my transcription, and corrected them. I also used a slightly different formating for this poem.

      With regard to the poem's title, I have seen it given as "Poem for a Lady of Leisure" without the "Now Retired" phrase.

      And as to your comment that Nikki Giovanni "never out right states that the poem is about an old prostitute", she does so in the poem's first line.

  2. I am a black woman, 62 years of age. I first heard this poem and song on the radio when I was 17 years old, preparing to graduate from high school in 1972. It brings tears to my eyes now, as it did then. I long for the days when gospel music was sacred, and powerful as it once was.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      I appreciate your points, but (and) I also remember how surprised and pleased I was when a Gospel song "Oh Happy Days" was aired on "secular" urban radio stations. That was also powerful as it helped raise awareness about and appreciation for contemporary Gospel music.