Nikki Grimes’s book, Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, tackles tough subjects with bold, heartfelt words in “the language of love”: poetry. The book is a collection of poems by both the author Nikki Grimes and women poets from the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which lasted from the 1910s to the 1930s. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a quick read that includes emotions and ideas intended to stay with them long after the last page is turned. I think that Legacy is important, insightful, and inspiring as the book’s poems consist of a wide range of topics such as nature, family, and childhood. The book even includes some of the current events that have been so important in 2020 such as racial justice and climate change. This book is not only a celebration of women and African Americans and the talents that they have contributed to the arts in the United States, it is a celebration of life itself. In Nikki Grimes’s poem, “Sweet Sister,” she celebrates the diversity in the natural world.
Imagine a world without rosemary or rose, even for
a moment. Where would the flavor or the
fragrance be? How we’d miss the quiet pleasure
earth brings to nose and tongue, of
which we are not worthy. Earth, your
generosity deserves to be met with love’s language.
In Legacy, you’ll find poems about the city and the country, family and friendship and self, dreams and hopes and wishes, all of which make up the experience of life on Earth.
As much as this book is pleasant and entertaining, which is how you might feel when you read the poems like “Earth, I Thank You” by Anne Spencer and “Rondeau” by Jessie Redmon Fauset, it is also full of poems that are important in today’s times. In the poem “Judgement,” author Nikki Grimes says that the “sole sin” of Black people is “being labeled disposable souls.” Throughout the Racial Justice movement this year, people all over the United States and the world have been taking to the streets to say the same thing: Black people shouldn't be labeled disposable, because they aren’t disposable. Black lives matter.
Another topic that Legacy touches on is climate change. You can tell that the author Nikki Grimes respects the earth and wants to convince others to take action in keeping it preserved for future generations, and she says so in her poetry, “We offer complaint without apology for the / years of desecration Earth has suffered… Nature shouldered / the brunt of man’s mistreatment too long.” Part II of Legacy is titled “Earth Mother” and focuses on the pleasures of spending time in nature, as well as gratitude for the gifts that the Earth provides for us. As Grimes writes, “...it is the way / of creation to be faithful. Notice: each dawn the sun comes up.” I feel like this section, Part II, is important because climate change is such a huge topic right now, and we need to focus on it because 2020 presents a unique opportunity to fix this crisis. But just like Grimes says, we also have to remember that “it is the way / of creation to be faithful” and that we need to be grateful for what the Earth does for us, even as we harm it.
One of my favorite things about this collection of poems is the way Nikki Grimes skillfully blends historical and contemporary writings and themes. Grimes uses the Golden Shovel method to write her poems. This method takes a line or section of another poem, called a striking line, and uses each word of that poem as the last word in the right margin of the newpoem. For example, here is a short Golden Shovel poem I wrote using a line from “Dusk” by Angelina Weld Grimké. (Read Grimké's entire poem in Legacy.)
Drifting, dancing, and
snow stirs about the dusk.
As you can see, I used Grimké’s line “and the dusk” to create a whole new poem. I think that the way Grimes uses this method of writing is very powerful because it takes a poem written in the past, during one of the largest artistic and cultural explosions in United States history, and uses pieces of that poem to create something that resonates today. Grimes’s poems, as well as the way she explains the Golden Shovel method, inspired me to write my own Golden Shovel poems. That’s another thing I really enjoyed about this book--it is inspiring. I was certainly inspired to write more poetry after reading it, and I think that many readers, young or old, will be too.
If you are looking for a book that is thoughtful and thought-provoking, gracious and graceful, smart and spirited and soulful, Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance is a book that you should most definitely check out. Packed with inspiring and important poems, the book also features art from some of today’s women African-American artists, as well as a section on the Golden Shovel method, a section on the Harlem Renaissance, and biographies of all of the poets whose work appears in this book. I highly recommend this book to everyone as it is truly a phenomenal read, and I think that everyone will find at least one poem that will speak to them, resonate with them, or relate to them. After all, isn’t that what poetry is all about?
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!