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About this poet

Nikky Finney was born on the coast of South Carolina in 1957 to a family of politicians and activists. She began writing poetry as a young girl, during a childhood marked by the civil rights struggle, and subsequently attended Talladega College in Alabama.

Finney's first book of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze (W. Morrow, 1985), followed by Rice (Sister Vision, 1995), Heartwood (University of Kentucky Press, 1997), and The World is Round (InnerLight Publishing, 2003). In 2011, her collection Head Off & Split (Northwestern University Press, 2011) was awarded the National Book Award.

As a photographer and performance artist, Finney worked to engage her political and artistic selves, before finding a unique fusion of the two in her poetry. She is deeply invested in the Black Arts movement, and is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of multiracial poets devoted to giving voice to the diversity of Appalachia. Finney is also on the Board of Cave Canem.

In addition to the National Book Award, Finney has received a PEN American Open Book Award and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry. She has taught at the University of Kentucky, is currently a professor at the University of South Carolina.

Heirloom

Nikky Finney, 1957
Sundown, the day nearly eaten away, 

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step 
into dying backyard light. Both hands 

steal into the swollen summer air, 
a blind reach into a blaze of acid, 

ghost bloom of nacre & breast. 
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple, 

two piddling Radiator Charlies 
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you, 
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets, 

well wedged beneath a two-by-four. 

But I really didn't think I would (ever leave), 
stings before the ladder hits the ground. 

I swat the familiar buzz away. 
My good arm arcs and aims. 

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day's 

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need. 

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in 
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

From Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney. Copyright © 2011 by Nikky Finney. Reprinted with permission from TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern. All rights reserved.

From Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney. Copyright © 2011 by Nikky Finney. Reprinted with permission from TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern. All rights reserved.

Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney

In addition to the National Book Award, Finney has received a PEN American Open Book Award and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Poetry

by this poet

poem
   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium
poem

Concerto no. 7: Condoleezza {working out} at the Watergate

Condoleezza rises at four, 
stepping on the treadmill. 

Her long fingers brace the two slim handles
of accommodating steel. 

She steadies her sleepy legs for the long day ahead. 
She doesn't get very far. 

Her knees buckle wanting
poem

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone's headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as