Wednesday, April 4, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Boy with Plane"

Welcome to day #4 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance.

Before we get started, be sure to visit Michelle at Today's Little Ditty to read the next line of this year's Progressive Poem!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project with Aaron Douglas who was often called the “official artist of the Harlem Renaissance," or the “Father of Black American Art.”

Aaron Douglas illustrated many books during the 1920's, and I learned in the book HARLEM STOMP! by Laban Carrick Hill that his work came to embody all that the Harlem Renaissance stood for – the culturally rich aspects of African-American life and heritage. So for the first week of this project, I will be writing after his work.

Aaron Douglas poems so far:

"To a Dancer" after Sahdji (Tribal Women) by Aaron Douglas
"For the Builders" after Building More Stately Mansions by Aaron Douglas
"This Poem is a Dream" after Aspiration by Aaron Douglas

Today's piece represents another theme of Aaron Douglas's work -- that of portraying African American people in their everyday lives. You can learn more about the painting here.

I was puzzled by the boy's expression in this piece. Is he bored? Or daydreaming? I like that it's a moment of pause between swooping that plane. I wondered, what is he thinking? And then I remembered this poem I read recently, and thought it might make a nice mentor text:

Or Hounds to Follow on a Track?
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

I wonder where the clouds go?
I wonder what the wind says?
I wonder what it is makes snow?
And how the birds get back?

I wonder how the flowers grow,
So many colors from one earth?
And how is it that feathers know
Which should be brown or red or black?

I wonder where the clouds go?
I wonder what the wind says?
Who teaches roosters how to crow?
Or hounds to follow on a track?

... and here's where I landed (ha!):

Boy with Plane

Will I ever fly a real plane?
Can I really be that brave?
Will I like it better than a train?
Once I'm gone, will I ever come home?

I wonder how to pilot in whirring rain,
and how to tunnel through cloud-mountains?
What if there comes a hurricane,
and the sky turns sticky as a honeycomb?

Will I ever fly a real plane?
Can I really be that brave?
Will it be easy as reading a weathervane?
Is there a word for a boy (like me)
who only wants to roam?

- Irene Latham


  1. I like your take, but he looks a bit irritated to me. I think he'd much rather be out flying his plane than sitting for a painting!

  2. Mary Lee has another idea about his expression, and I agree, he really does seem upset. I love what you did and "after" the Coatsworth poem as a mentor, Irene. It is a challenge to read paintings or poems.

  3. Listening to you read the poem afforded me more time to reflect on the little boy and his aspirations. After reading what Mary Lee and Linda said, I went back to take a second look at the boy's face that is not filled with joy at having to sit for the painting.

  4. I like "Or Hounds to Follow on a Track" as a mentor text. The photo makes me sad as I reflect on a black boy's limitations during the HR. A plane seems symbolic, and that takes me to flight in literature.


Your thoughts?