Sunday, April 15, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Girl to Mama"

Welcome to day #15 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance.

Before we get to today's poem, please be sure and visit Donna at Mainely Write to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project with another piece Palmer Hayden. We'll stick with him a couple more days!

Here are the poems in the series so far:

"For Love of the Game" after Checkers Game by Palmer Hayden
"The Birthday Birds of Bonaventure Island" after Birds of Isle de Bonaventure by Palmer Hayden
"Boat Dock, Early Evening" after Boats at the Dock by Palmer Hayden
"Prayer for the Berry Pickers" after Berry Pickers by Palmer Hayden
"Sometimes Books Are the Only Playground I Need" after Among Them is a Girl Reading by Palmer Hayden
"Measurements" after Octoroon Girl by Archibald Motley
"Barbeque" after Barbecue by Archibald Motley
"American Idyll, 1934" after An Idyll of the Deep South by Aaron Douglas
"The Toiler" after The Toiler by Aaron Douglas
"Let There Be Poetry" after The Creation by Aaron Douglas
"Boy with Plane" after Boy with Plane by Aaron Douglas
"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

I learned in the book HARLEM STOMP! that Hayden was a janitor and then came to prominence as the first winner of the Harmon Foundation art competition in 1926 (an art contest created to recognize African American artists). Much of Hayden's work centered on black American life, legends and folk heroes. He was criticized for lapsing into a portrayal of blacks that seemed rooted in cultural stereotypes, a reminder that “blacks were performing for a white audience.” I also love the information about Palmer's life and work found here.

And I love this quote: "I decided to paint to support my love of art, rather than have art support me." — Palmer Hayden quoted in Nora Holt, "Painter Palmer Hayden Symbolizes John Henry," New York Times, 1 Feb. 1947. 

Today's piece is called Madonna of the Stoop. And it's fitting because I've just spent time with my mother! I've long written about the mother-daughter relationship, how rich and complex it is, and how fortunate I am to have been so well-loved by my own mother. Moments with her are a treasure! And so, with a nod to Harlem Renaissance poem Langston Hughes' "Mother to Son," I give you "Girl to Mama."

Girl to Mama

I say, Mama,
that halo you forced
upon my head
is dented now
and dingy
with layers of dust.

And those angelwings
you stitched
upon my back?
Those threads
unraveled long ago.

But you remain
Madonna of the stoop,
keeper of the lost
and tattered.
Shine, Mama.


- Irene Latham


  1. So many unrecognized Madonnas on stoops in so many cities. Here's to the mothers who hold families together single-handedly!

  2. You've returned that halo to the Mama, Irene, something as we become grown, we often do, I think. Much to love in the picture and in your poem. I like those "threads unraveled".

  3. Shine, Mama! This poem speaks volumes to the mother-daughter relationship.

  4. So fun that you treasure time spent with your mom. Something tells me that you inherited some of your shine from her. Love the alliteration of dented, dingy, and dust in the first stanza.


Your thoughts?