Thursday, March 9, 2017

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

One of the most extraordinary results of the Great Migration was an explosion of African American artistic endeavors during the 1920s and 1930s, a period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Art, dance, music, poetry, all artistic and cultural forms flourished during this time and Harlem became a mecca for African American artists.

Calling on some of the great poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Nikki Grimes has created an anthology of poems as only she can. She has paired some of the best poems by masters as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen with poems of her own, but she has taken the pairing one step further and used a poetic form called the Golden Shovel, a form created to honor poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

A poet using Golden Shovel takes one or more lines from a poem and places the chosen words vertically in the right hand column. These words from the original poem become the last words of each line of poetry in the new poem. Let me give you an example of Golden Shovel from One Last Word:
Storm Ending 
by Jean Toomer
Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears...
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey -
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

Using the highlighted words from Toomer's poem, Grimes created this poem:
by Nikki Grimes
The truth is, every day we rise is like thunder -
a clap of surprise. Could be echoes of trouble, or blossoms
of blessing. You never know what garish or gorgeously
disguised memories-to-be might rain down from above.
So, look up! Claim that cloud with the silver lining. Our
job, if you ask me, is to follow it. See where it heads.

Grimes begins this volume with an original poem of her own that asks the question so many young people of color must be asking themselves today: how does one stay strong in a world where fear and hate are right outside the door?  Each poem by the leading poets of the Harlem Renaissance is arranged somewhat thematically around this question, placed side by side with a contemporary poem by Grimes, all age appropriate and relevant to today young readers. And Grimes ends with another original poem that answers her opening question not with a pat answer but with a vision of hope. Two beautiful poems connected to each other by shared words across time and space.

One Last Word is a skillfully crafted homage to these great African American poets and the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance, a tribute to the heroes of poetry that influenced Nikki Grimes's development as a daring and original poet, who like her predecessors, is a voice and interpreter of her times.

Each poem has an accompanying illustration by some of today's best African American artists. Each illustration is done it the artists preferred medium and has a style of its own, giving the artwork the same sense of individuality that the poems.

Be sure to read both the front and back matter. There is short introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, as well as a more detailed description of the poetry form used and an Author's Note. Back matter includes biographies of the poets Grimes chose for this volume and the artists who contributed to it. Grimes has also included the sources she consulted to make One Last Word the incredible volume poetry it is.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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