The Power of Poetry: Nikki Grimes’s Latest

by | Jan 6, 2021

Nikki Grimes’s latest book, “Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance,” has many outstanding elements to it. Grimes features poems written by women during the Harlem Renaissance (roughly 1918-1937), most of whom are unknown and overlooked. Then she expands on those works by making Golden Shovel poems from each one.

Golden Shovel is a technique where you take a phrase from a song or a poem, for example, and put each word from that phrase on the end of a line and then write the rest of the poem around those words.

Here is an example from the book: a poem by Ida Rowland titled “Autumn Evening” has a gorgeous line: “like crumpled silver in the stinging winds.”

Grimes takes those words and, on the following page the reader finds:

“Strength Training,” by Grimes, which reads, in part:

Cancer keeps trying to pin my mother to the mat like

A wrestler. But it’s no match for her. However crumpled

Up some weeks feel during chemo, she finds the silver

In each day ‑    etc.

It looks deceptively easy, doesn’t it? Take your favorite line from a song or poem and give it a try. I’d love to hear how you make out.

Those two elements, spotlighting under-recognized female poets and Golden Shovel poetry, would be enough, But Grimes does more.  

In the back of the book, each poet has a short biography that includes selected works. And, finally, the entire book is illustrated by almost two dozen contemporary women artists, each of whom also has a short biography in the back.

In a nutshell, “Legacy” is a celebration of creative Black women through the ages, which I found singularly enjoyable and satisfying.

For those young readers who don’t think they like poetry, this collection offers an easily accessed entry point. The poems in “Legacy” are about nature, about growing up as a black female, living up to one’s potential: topics and imagery that are clear and resonant, topics that young readers can relate to.

For those young readers who already love poetry, they will enjoy the gorgeous imagery and luscious phrases such as these:  

“Caged innocents, we study the heavens for a lightning bolt of justice, a hurricane of grace toward parents whose sole sin is love of us and freedom…”  Or  “I feel something soft but strong brushing once knobby shoulder blades, a quiet unfolding of feathery limbs…” And, “I join the celebration of woman-joy … the comfort of sisters cradling me when Death slithers into the neighborhood, like a rattler…also the cleansing wind of  deep belly laughter as we gather around that love-worn kitchen table, licking morsels of each story that lifts us….”

I try not to review books before they have been released, but this time I broke my own rule. Although “Legacy” doesn’t officially come out until January, you can pre-order now, and, who knows, you might get it a little before that. Meanwhile, since Grimes, an award-winning author and poet, has written more than 75 books in her lifetime, you can probably find some of her other stories and poems to keep you busy until your copy of “Legacy” comes. 

Alexandra the Great book cover

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