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Head Off & Split: Poems Paperback – January 27, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Nikky Finney has been a fine poet much too long to say that this latest treasure is her promise coming into being. She exploded with so much talent with On Wings Made of Gauze and beautifully matured with Rice, yet Head Off & Split takes the promise of youth with the control of adulthood to bring her greatest exploration. Honest, searing, searching. We all, especially now, need this book of poems; we all, especially now, need this poet." -Nikki Giovanni, author of Bicycles


"Beginning with the sweepingly inclusive and powerful 'Red Velvet,' a Middle Passage poem for our times, Nikky Finney takes the reader to a wonderfully alive world where the musical possibilities of language overflow with surprise and innovation. Finney has an ear to go along with the wild-ness of her imagination, which sweeps through history like a pair of wings. Her carefully modulated free verse is always purposeful in its desire to move the reader in a way that allows us intimate access to necessary observations about ourselves. These poems, in other words, have the power to save us." 
--Bruce Weigl, author of What Saves Us


"With Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney establishes herself as one of the most eloquent, urgent, fearless and necessary poets writing in America today. What makes this book as important as anything published in the last decade is the irresistible music, the formal dexterity and the imaginative leaps she makes with metaphor and language in these simply stunning poems. This is a very, very important achievement."
--Kwame Dawes, author of Hope's Hospice

About the Author

Nikky Finney was born at the rim of the Atlantic Ocean, in South Carolina, in 1957. The daughter of activists and educators, she began writing in the midst of the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements. With these instrumental eras circling her, Finney's work provides first-person literary accounts to some of the most important events in American history.

In 1985, and at the age of 26, Finney's debut collection of poetry, On Wings Made of Gauze, was published by William Morrow (a division of HaperCollins). Finney's next full-length collection of poetry and portraits, RICE (Sister Vision Press, 1995), was awarded the PEN America-Open Book Award, which was followed by a collection of short stories entitled Heartwood (University Press of Kentucky, 1998). Her next full-length poetry collection, The World Is Round (Inner Light Books, 2003) was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Award sponsored by the Independent Booksellers Association. In 2007, Finney edited the anthology, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press/Cave Canem), which has become an essential compilation of contemporary African American writers. Her fourth full-length collection of poetry, Head Off & Split, is a National Book Award Winner. 

Finney and her work have been featured on Russell Simmons DEF Poetry (HBO series), renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson's feature The Meaning of Food (a PBS production) and National Public Radio. Her work has been praised by Walter Mosley, Nikki Giovanni, Gloria Naylor and the late CBS/60 Minutes news anchor Ed Bradley. Finney has held distinguished posts at Berea College as the Goode Chair in the Humanities and Smith College as the Grace Hazard Conklin Writer-in-Residence.

Finney is currently a Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University Kentucky. She is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 116 pages
  • Publisher: Triquarterly (January 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810152169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810152168
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Evelyn Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split: Poems, so private and so intimate yet so open and candidly American, is a book of penetrating poetry that left its mark on me like a tattoo's ink under my skin. Professor Finney's clear-eyed, expansive vision opens a window into her heart, her intellect, and her soul, transporting us into the piercing, smart, sensual interior landscape of an African American woman.

This is a volume of poetry that exposes the tender personal sensitivities of the poet as well as the raw edges of the outside world of history and society. With the music of an exquisite language that rolls around your mouth and in your mind, Finney reveals deeply touching, private emotions and at the same time expresses keen social observations, both with an accomplished storyteller's lyricism, a gifted poet's metaphors, and an engaging wordsmith`s eloquence.

Head Off & Split: Poems has a visceral power which is both incidental and intrinsic to the African American experience. With tough minded admissions and gentle refusals, Nikky Finney's versification propels us from one line to the next, sharing meditative personal experiences, expansive social commentary, honest historical insight, and the sensuality of the living world as she feels it.

The following verses are favorites of mine and come from her poem for Rosa Parks- "Red Velvet" :

You cannot keep messing with a sweet-looking
Black woman who knows her way around velvet.
Read more ›
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I am struck by the passionate power herein, Finney's illuminating of a world parallel to my own that is at once foreign and familiar. These are words to marvel at. I bought this volume in order to own a copy of an excerpt I'd read titled "Instruction, Final: To Brown Poets from Black Girl with Silver Leica." But the whole volume could be dedicated "To Poets and Writers and Readers, and You Who are Alive."
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Nikky Finney's incredible collection, HEAD OFF AND SPLIT, is hard hitting and will take your breath away. The impact of her poetry has the power to transform your thinking into a place words rarely venture. I highly recommend this book!
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I caught Nikky Finney's speech on Book TV at the National Book Awards. Her speech was so powerful I had to get the book that day. The title "Head Off and Split" might make you think this is a book about running away, but no, this is a book that ends with coming back. The final poems in the book are spectacular and will stick in my mind and heart forever. I won't give them away but just mention that the poems in a way are work poems--about preparing fish for sale and about the conditions of that work--but of course the work becomes a beautiful original metaphor for what we do in life.
Kudos to my alma mater and its press for publishing this great book.
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No, no; I don't think it is.

Though not my favorite book of contemporary poetry from the last five years, Head Off & Split examines such variable aspects of family life and sexuality that it's impossible to undercut its awareness of its writer's identity. Political poems are far from my favorite, and I could well do without the Condoleeza suite, but Nikky Finney knows who she is as a poet and a person, and the book shows it.
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A friend gave me a copy of Nikky Finney's HEAD OFF & SPLIT. We give each other books so that we can discuss them. There is much to discuss in Ms. Finney's book. Written in three movements, and like a symphony I think of them as being meter marked--Moderato, Allegro, and Adagio.
Moderato.
The first movement is history and comment, all very transparent, though allusions to former Vice President Dan Quayle's spelling embarrassment might be lost on younger readers. I enjoy her politics. "The Condoleezza Suite" is a kind of Mahler-like inset to the structure
Allegro.
The middle movement is full of tumbling images, tumultuous feelings of love and longing, and bold abstraction. These poems all see very personal and active. The section has the very appropriate subtitle THE HEAD - OVER - HEELS.
Adagio.
The final section collects longer poems with longer lines. The whole set of poems ends powerfully with a restatement of the title theme.
The edition I received has Ms. Finney's Acceptance Speech for the National Book Award for Poetry. The moderator of the awards program, John Lithgow, said of her speech, "That was the best acceptance speech I have heard anywhere." (The speech and Lithgow's remarks are available on the web.) I am happy that the speech is included. It is a kind of encore.
As a result of reading HEAD OFF & SPLIT, I ordered RICE. I received it today, and while I have not read it, I can say that Sistor Vision Press did an beautiful job of producing it.
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This book is amazing! Deep and rich poetry, touching on human emotions I didn't even know existed. A uniquely African American viewpoint that is naked and enlightening with nothing held back. I found myself in tears not as much because of the poetry's story line but because of the power and use of language.
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