Review: One Last Word Offers New Perspective On Poetry From The Harlem Renaissance

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I had never even heard of the Harlem Renaissance until reading One Last Word by Nikki Grimes. It was an era where Black artists shined. Poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar, singers like Josephine Baker and artists like William Johnson; all lit their talent in this age.

This book highlights Harlem Renaissance poetry in a form called Golden Shovel. Basically, you take lines or stanzas from a published poem and write an original poem, putting a word from the first poem as a last word in each line in your poem. (I attempted this type of poetry style below my rose rating. Check it out!)

Nikki Grimes combines these stories from the past with ones that affect us today. For example, she takes Countee Cullen’s poem “For A Poetwhich is about dreams, and turns it into similar poem called “A Safe Place.” She also writes about interracial dating, self-love, etc. This book of poetry, accompanied by colorful illustrations by many renowned illustrators, is truly a work of art. The author really captures the power of a poem – with imagery, similes, rhythm…I could go on.

I liked this book because of the beautiful pictures that were scattered throughout the book by illustrators like Ebony Glenn, one of the first artists I interviewed for my blog; and Sean Qualls, whose illustrations are amazing. Since the artists had their own style and way of making illustrations, it was cool to see the variety in the color schemes and mediums.

One Last Word introduced me to many poets and I got to read more poems from writers I did know. My favorite poem from the someone from the Harlem Renaissance would be “Mother To Son” by Langston Hughes, because it stresses an important message about struggle and perseverance. My favorite by Nikki Grimes would be “A Dark Date For Josh”, which is about two teens of different races who want to go the school dance together.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy Jaqueline Woodson’s novels. I am obsessed with Brown Girl Dreaming, also a book of poetry I reviewed . The reading level of this book is probably around nine to 12, but of course, anyone can read it!

Four out of four roses! (Don’t forget to scroll to see my poem.)

My Golden Shovel poem!

What Happens to a Dream Deferred? by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Inspired by this piece, I decided to make a Golden Shovel poem out of a stanza in Hughes’ work. Writing in this type of form was really interesting because I couldn’t say exactly what I wanted to, but the challenge was really fun. I think Golden Shovel poems are great for writer’s block, when you need another writer for inspiration.

Self Confidence, by Elena Reads

one maybe
turns to thirteen, it
feeds her lies she just
believes. critiquing how her stained shirt sags,
spitting out how it’s like
she’s as poor as a
cargo train without steam. her empty heart heavy,
shewondershowmuchlongershecancarrytheload.

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