Thursday, February 10, 2011

NCTE Award Poetry: A Pocketful of Poems by Nikki Grimes


Grimes, Nikki. 2001. A pocketful of poems. Ill. by Javaka Steptoe. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN – 9780395938683.

Critical Review –

This poetry anthology is a celebration of African-American urban culture. Nikki Grimes assembles twenty-eight poems that cover the experiences of a girl named “Tiana” over the course of one year. She moves from spring to summer to fall then winter. The structure of the poems is inventive. Grimes begins her anthology with a poem that introduces her intentions for the rest of the collection. She graciously invites the reader to join in her playful exploration of words by inviting them to “borrow most of them/if you want to.” For the next twenty-six poems, she starts with a word and then creates two poems that encapsulate that word for her. The first in the pair is generally a short free verse poem that offers an explanation of the word’s significance.

Then, using her contemporary style of haiku, Grimes pairs a second poem using the same word. While she departs from some of the traditional Eastern cultural elements such as line lengths and nature themes, Grimes does stay faithful to the seventeen syllable structure. Each poem is rich with poetic elements, such as, alliteration, smiles, onomatopoeia, allusion, and personification. The final poem in the collection is a short free verse poem that expresses her feelings about haiku. Then Grimes adds an author’s note that explains her intentions for the collection and ends with another invitation to the reader, “…maybe you’ll try writing some of your own!”

Likewise, the illustrations wonderfully celebrate American-American culture without being stereotypical. Through the layering of images, Steptoe creates a 3-D effect that causes the images to lift up off the page. He uses a collage style that includes a wide diversity of materials. Steptoe’s illustrations perfectly harmonize the mood of each poem. Most are playful and some are humorous.

The poems below are an example of the creative pairing. Both are composed using the word “Spring.” The first one is the short free verse, and the second one is the haiku. In the first one, Grimes uses alliteration and simile to cultivate her images of spring. In her haiku, she has the flowers shouting which is a wonderfully striking personification. When the reader pictures a flower blooming in the spring, one can hear the flower shouting.


Look! Here's a fresh
green growing word.
SPRING. I plant it
like a seed.

Mama's window box--
purple flowers shout the news.
Finally--it's spring!

Kid Connection –

To introduce these poems, have a plant that it beginning to bloom and lead a discussion with the students pointing out that some flowers on the plant are still buds, but some are open. Then read the above poems. For younger students, a follow-up activity of writing their own haiku would be easy to do using Grimes seventeen syllable structure. For older students, this collection would be an excellent choice to pair with an Eastern style of haiku and have the students compare and contrast the differences in structure and theme. For science class, these poems would make a terrific introduction for a lesson on plant reproduction.

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