Voices of Jerusalem

Poetry collection transports readers to first Easter
March 31, 2005

Nikki Grimes says she loves poetry that can make a beeline to one’s heart. “I love the challenge of painting a story in as few words as possible. I’m also a very direct person, and poetry is a no-nonsense genre,” Grimes writes on her web site. Though the number of its pages is small, Grimes latest book, At Jerusalem’s Gate, is large in its dimensions, is rich in color and touches one’s heart.

Grimes begins her collection of poems at the gate of the old city where the biblical story of Easter unfolds. There are 22 poems in all, exploring the first Easter through the voices of those who witnessed it – from a man in the crowd who vies to see Jesus to a disciple who describes the Last Supper to Pilate’s wife, who fears her husband’s decision.

In the poem Evidence of Mercy, Grimes describes the account of Malchus, the servant of high priest Caiaphas, who joined the crowd that accompanied soldiers sent to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane.“To hear his master tell it/ this Jesus had two heads / breathed fire at least. Why else would temple police / and soldiers descend on him / in hordes?”

A black foster child from a broken and dysfunctional home in New York who spent little time in one neighborhood or one school, Grimes spent hours reading children’s books in the local library. “Books were my soul’s delight,” she says on her website. Yet, she felt, the stories she read betrayed her because too few featured African Americans or acknowledged the existence of those problems she faced growing up.

Today an accomplished poet, she has written many award-winning books for children and young adults, conducted poetry readings, lectured at international schools and inspired children at school assemblies, encouraging them to aspire for high goals.

Throughout her career, Grimes has been noted for her strong African-American voice, and her universal themes of friendship and family and community relationships. Her latest book is a good one for a family to read together and to explore the questions she raises in the lives of people who experienced that first Easter.

“The written word has always held a special fascination for me,” she says. “It seemed uncanny that words spread across a page just so, had the power to transport me to another time or place.” At Jerusalem’s Gate does just that.

David Frampton’s beautifully intricate and expressive woodcuts illuminate each poem. A woodcut is a picture cut into a piece of wood, then covered with paint and squeezed against paper. Each picture is made from separate woodcuts, one for each color.

Frampton, who has created woodcuts for children’s books for many years, tells children that woodcuts are like stepping into a puddle and leaving footprints behind. At Jerusalem’s Gate leaves that kind of lasting impression.

Children who are budding authors and poets will find resources when they visit Nikki Grimes at: http://www.nikkigrimes.com/

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