Monday, April 2, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "For the Builders"

Welcome to day #2 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance.

Before we get started, be sure to visit Jane at Raincity Librarian 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.

Yesterday's poem:
"This Poem is A Dream" after Aspiration by Aaron Douglas

Today's piece is called Building More Stately Mansions. You can read more about the painting here. I knew right away I wanted to write something about/for builders, so I started looking for other builder poems. Here's what I found:

 "The Builders" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The Bridge Builder" by Will Allen Dromgoole
"They, the Builders of the Nation" sung by the Mormon Tabernacle 

stone picnic table at Palisades Park -
someone had to build it!
And I thought I *might* want to include something about the Sphinx, which I have seen with my own two eyes! (Side note: both my parents have said that the one place they would return to from all our worldwide travels is Egypt. Interesting...) Other things that came to mind: my grandparents, who built their home themselves, brick by brick; the show "Bob the Builder," which my middle son loved!; the crew who recently built our stairs and boat dock; and Palisades Park in Oneonta, Alabama, where builders created picnic tables out of stone slabs!

And here is where I landed:

For the Builders
- after "Building More Stately Mansions" by Aaron Douglas

For your arched back,
tattered hands

your sandpaper mouth
and battered feet.

For every stone

For years, for hours –
we thank you.

For again and again.

For forging beauty,

For your relentless

- Irene Latham


  1. Hooray for the "relentless / hammersong"s!

  2. My husband's uncle was a 'builder' & I know his 'tattered hands' from our visits. Now I know several architects, miracle workers to me that they can first imagine, then build. Lovely ode, Irene.

  3. You honor real people and real work, Irene. We should all remember how fortunate we are to have such diversity of talent around us. And not to live in those times where there would be no choice at all for too many. I love tattered/ battered. And your form. And your backstory/research. You inspire.
    Janet Clare F.

  4. I have so many thoughts about this poem: 1. It reminds me of the way Walt Whitman celebrates each individual contribution; 2. The form makes me think of Langston Hughes. 3. Your poem inspires me as I think about migrant workers I knew when I taught in Arizona. I simply love the poem, the image of worker's hands, the celebratory tone, the repetition that suggests an ongoing action.

  5. "For forging beauty,

    This painting and this poem are both together. I love your hammersong, Irene!

  6. Sometimes I just stand back, staring in awe at a set of stone steps or a big church or even a magnificent headstone. Someone built it...someones built it all. Thank you for this reminder. x

  7. Gorgeous painting you picked Irene, I love listening to your poem and looking at the large image–your words and the image both breath together, thanks!

  8. Michelle is right, the painting is gorgeous, and, the artist used only one color plus white!

    Thanks for including the audio with your poems, Irene, it adds a whole other dimension!


Your thoughts?