The Power of Listening to Nikki Giovanni’s ‘Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day’

Hearing her words, and her voice, makes the resonance that much deeper and the storytelling that much richer

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day is my favorite collection of poetry by Nikki Giovanni. It’s been about 13 years since I was first introduced to it, falling deeply in love with the titular poem. I still cling to “Habits,” “Woman,” “Introspection,” and “Crutches,” which deftly declares:

emotional falls always are
the worst
and there are no crutches
to swing back on

Each time I read and reread a poem from Giovanni’s 36-piece collection of truth-telling, it opens me up a little more.

Nearly four months ago, I returned to Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. Not by text but by audio. I stumbled upon the album, released by Folkways Records in 1978, on Spotify. I started streaming Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day during my long walks in my neighborhood, and it quickly became the walking meditation I didn’t know I needed. (When I’m not zen-ing out with jellyfish.)

Reading poetry is a gift. Listening to it heightens the experience. The words come alive with every syllable, breath, and lilt. With each listen of Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, the verses hit me a little harder than they did before, make me think a little more, carry me further into wonderment.

Simply hearing Giovanni’s rhythm and rhyme in the lovers’ poem “That Day” through my headphones is delightful. The patterns and flow. The stuff that makes me miss live poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and readings at the Schomburg Center in the pre-Covid era.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day isn’t the only album of poetry I listen to. I have a modest vinyl record collection that includes Giovanni’s Truth Is on Its Way, an album of poetry she performed with a gospel backdrop in collaboration with the New York Community Choir. It includes treasures like “Ego Tripping” and “Nikki Rosa.“ I searched for this album last summer after watching an archival clip of Giovanni and the choir perform “Great Pax Whitey (Peace Be Still)” from the television show Soul! And just this week, I received the white and subtly rose-splattered vinyl edition of Love Poems, which includes the tender and moving “Resignation,” one of my all-time favorite love poems.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Exploring a writer’s words in this way hits differently.

Though I still prefer reading with a book in hand, I switch it up to an audiobook from time to time. That’s how I discovered Aunjanue Ellis’ impeccable command and delivery of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories in Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick. It’s also how I learned Mariah Carey sings and throws shade narrating her memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey. And before her death last month, our beloved Cicely Tyson blessed us by recording the introduction of her memoir, Just as I Am.

Hearing these words, these voices, makes the resonance that much deeper and the storytelling that much richer.

ZORA Fam, what are the best pieces of writing you’ve experienced live or recorded? Let us know in the responses.

Rule breaker, champion of women and education, and recovering sports journalist.

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