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May's Book
- by Nikky Finney

Searching for meaning in Rice

- By Chela Kaplan, KET

Nikky Finney builds with words like a child plays with blocks. She uses them to construct her own unique structure of images, stacking them to suit her meaning.

As a reader unfamiliar with reading poetry and certainly new to African American words and history, I found Finney's poetry fascinating and lyrical. I marveled at the images her words conjured for me as I read Rice. Often a poem would beg to be read aloud and I would oblige, enjoying the sound of the words in my ears. I would read and re-read a poem, writing down the words I enjoyed or the ones that I didn't understand. When I didn't understand her references, I would look up the word in the dictionary or on the Web.

Even if you are an experienced reader of poetry, or understand the African American heritage better than I, you still might find my discoveries interesting to explore.

Rice is divided into three sections: "Heel - Toe," "Thresh," and "Winnow." Finney explains each reference, sometimes presenting more than one definition.

First, I searched for references to Finney's South Carolinian ancestry and the history of "Carolina Gold" rice.

  • Map and Carolina Gold info

    The poem "Cotton Tea" refers to Cotton root which is used for medicinal purposes to induce abortion. A particular species only grows in the low islands and sea-coast of Georgia and South Carolina.

    Finney often speaks of cowrie or sacred cowrie. Not knowing what cowrie was, I turned to the Web and discovered that cowrie is a shelled mollusk. Cowrie shells were used as money and to make jewelry in Africa and have spiritual significance.

  • Beautiful pics of shelled mollusks

    Daufuskie is an island located between Hilton Head Island, SC and Savannah, GA This isolation led to a unique African/American culture called Gullah.

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    Last Updated:  Friday, 04-Apr-2014 08:20:09 EDT