Thursday, April 5, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Let There Be Poetry"

Welcome to day #5 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance. It's also Spiritual Journey Thursday, and today we are gathering at Carol's Beyond LiteracyLink to talk about poetry as spiritual practice.

Before we get started, be sure to visit  Jan at bookseedstudio 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:

"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

Today's piece is a powerful one. I love it so much that I very nearly made it the cover image for my project. Indeed, I DID make it my cover image, but then I showed it to some others, and they didn't think it screamed "Harlem Renaissance," so I went with another image (which I also love!).
Anyhow, this piece seemed perfect to me to do double-duty on this Spiritual Journey Thursday, in which we are talking about the spiritual practice of poetry.
What are we, if not creators? And where do these words come from anyway? What is more important to a spiritual life than gratitude? Isn't the best part sharing the words with others? So I tried to put all of that into today's poem. :) Which means my poem is longer than the ones I typically write for this series... which is fitting, right?

Let There Be Poetry

On that first bare day,
God said, these words are yours
and letters and syllables came
tumbling from his hands,
a monsoon of words –

some words were swallowed,
some were swept away; others hid,
and the rest declared themselves:
rainbow   butterfly     heartbeat

The bulging, soggy world
began to crumple,
so you said to God, what now?
And God was quiet for a long time.

Finally you heard it: Listen,
and the words will create you anew.

You did listen, and words
swarmed your skin,
nestled themselves into your eyes,
your ears, every crevice

until your beehive heart
was so swollen with words
you couldn't even cry out –

but God heard, and he said,
words are for giving away
and so you began with small words
yes    we   love

Soon you could breathe again,
and then words became phrases,
phrases evolved into poems –
poems and poems and poems

Yet somehow words didn't dry up,
they multiplied, spilled over,
and you didn't need God to tell you
that when it comes to poetry

there's always enough
for everyone

- Irene Latham


  1. This is officially my favorite creation story EVER. Because we're allowed to choose the mythos that most resonates with the core of our being, right? Thank you for this gift.

  2. I love this so much. "Beehive heart." Ahhhhh!

  3. Mary Lee is right--THIS creation story is the one we wordsmiths have been craving, but by itself ("and on the first day God gave the people language") it's there's not much to it. It's your inhabitation of that event, that process, that makes the story special:
    "a monsoon of words –
    some words were swallowed,
    some were swept away; others hid,
    and the rest declared themselves"
    swarmed your skin,
    nestled themselves into your eyes,
    your ears, every crevice"

    My beehive heart is swollen with the flood of words.

  4. Irene, this is an amazing poem for this month's SJ1stT. I just want to be swept away into your poem because there is so much goodness in it. We must indeed listen to the heartbeats of creation, of humanity, and know that God hears us. With gratitude, poets sing the praises of earth within the walls of their "beehive heart". Thank you for this. I have to say each poet who responded so far (you, Donna, Margaret, and Violet) have flooded my soul with so much peace that I have to take time to process all of this calmness that has entered my space. Eternally grateful!

  5. "When it comes to poetry, there's always enough for everyone." So much to love in this beautiful creation poem. So glad you listen and bless us as you continue to give words away.

  6. So beautiful, Irene. I feel joyfully swept up in the movement, the creation, and the gift.

  7. Yet somehow words didn't dry up, which is always our greatest fear.

    Thanks, Irene.

  8. This is a song of my own heart, the gift of words from the God I love. Of course, there are enough. Of course, God knows what we need. I want to tuck this one in my journal for safe keeping.

  9. This is really fabulous! I love it from the first lines to the generous ending. And the artwork with it is perfect.

  10. The first verse beautifully captures the image of god giving words. We think often about the things we're commanded to "have dominion over," but language doesn't often appear in that discussion, yet it is our words that control all things. I love everything about this poem--images of birth, growth, control, beauty. My words are inadequate to capture this poems spiritualness and beauty in a short comment.

  11. Beautiful, Irene. So many layers of creation in your poem. I love how you open with nothing and God, then end with us and abundance.

  12. Hmmm. Just checked here for the Progressive Poem calendar that I forgot to grab, and thought I'd check on my comment and then noticed that I didn't put it here. Good grief.
    I meant to leave "Your poem is so very amazing! I really love so many parts!"

  13. Your poem affected life?! Yes, you can share your lovely poem and its great "after story" with the world... Submit now on

  14. "Words are for giving away," lovely, thanks for this soulfully rich poem Irene!

  15. Absolutely stunning. A couple of weeks ago, my pastor spoke about the verse from John 1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…" I've been kind of swirling those words around in head and heart ever since. And then your beautiful poem. So perfect! Words, poetry, such a gift from the Abba Father!


Your thoughts?