Poetry Highlights from Nikki Grimes

On Friday, June 13, at Harding University I had the great privilege to listen to readings and teachings of poet and author, Nikki Grimes.
Ms. Grimes stated that as our world grows more complicated nothing can prepare a child for it like poetry.
She said poetry can be a message or a massage, depending on the words used in the poem. She takes a natural, organic approach to poetry and has been a lifelong student of it. Ms. Grimes said, “I’m a poet down to my soul.” She explained that a poem tells a story or paints a picture with as few words as possible. She directed us to tune into our senses and draw on the environment—to play with the words.
She told us to begin with a simple description of a subject and then play around with a couple of the phrases we had written. We were to use word tools, like a dictionary and thesaurus. And she cautioned us about using rhyme—it should only be included when used well and with intention. But she does like internal rhyme and uses it often.
She shared with us the galley of her picture book biography of Barack Obama, which is to be released in September of this year. Her poetic voice shaped the story of the senator’s life from childhood to his current Presidential election campaign.
Ms. Grimes read excerpts from her latest novel in verse, THE DARK SONS. The story parallels the lives of two boys, one modern (Sam) and one ancient (biblical Ishmael) She also read selections from two of her narrative poetry picture books, WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING, and MEET DANITRA BROWN. Ms. Grimes explained that every poem in a narrative poetry book must be a complete poem in itself, but it must also add to the development of the story. And a novel in verse is more complicated than narrative poetry because it must have a more detailed plot, setting and time period.
Ms. Grimes wove the words of her poems with the skill of a master. She truly was an inspiration–a revelation, a celebration, pure jubilation! (And I hope she will forgive me for using these rhyming words to describe it all.)

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