I had the great good fortune to attend a reading by Nikki Giovanni at Case Western Reserve University last year. She’s a remarkable presence and her storytelling (if that’s even the right word for it) was amazing. She read a few poems – I’m sure she did – but they didn’t really make an impact on me. Upon request, she recited one at the end and asked for and received help to finish it. But the newest work in Chasing Utopia does not amount too much. The poems seem slight – even dashed off. They might carry more weight if they were delivered by the poet who somehow manages to exude her life experience through her voice. On the page, though, they come off as flat. Some of the prose pieces (essays? prose poems?) that make this book a hybrid, show more signs of life, but only occasionally. I was rooting for something in this book to reach out and grab me, but it rarely happened.

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