An Introduction to Niki Herd by Henk Rossouw


Reading and re-reading, for the pleasure of its form, “Birth of a Nation” has left me astounded. With its documentary poetics worked into the ground of the poem rather than dominating the frame, and with its precise juxtapositions and anecdotal tone, “Birth of a Nation” foregrounds not the new sentence but the new paragraph, of which Niki Herd is a brilliant innovator. One of a series of prose poems, “Birth of a Nation” offers a devastating critique of the way that gun violence, its ideology, is rampant in almost every aspect of the speaker’s existence in the United States, even in the seemingly innocuous poetry advice she receives: “I’ve been advised not to use the word gun or rather I’ve been advised to refrain from writing too many gun poems—perhaps only one or two.” The poem signal its influences, Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler and Mark Nowak’s Coal Mountain Elementary, with an openness that has become key to investigative poetics. While the word “critique” implies argument, Niki Herd’s poem moves with a more urgent logic, that of feeling, through a sequence of images that use restraint to make room, politically, for us to resist as normal the everyday cost of living in a country where guns have been held sacred since its inception on paper—and before. The fixation with guns, the poem implies, takes place more often than not through language: The self-reflexivity that the speaker brings to “Birth of a Nation,” for instance, soon made me aware of how easily tempted I had been, in my first draft of this introduction, to employ language rooted in the ideology of gun violence: “This poem blows me away,” I almost wrote, alongside the phrase “blazing intelligence.” And so, in Niki Herd’s work, not only are thinking and feeling synonymous—a rare feat—but her poem, rarer still, instead of performing thought for me, lets me think. Niki Herd’s work is fresh, incisive, necessary.


Read “Birth of a Nation” by Niki Herd >>