Tuesday, April 17, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Night Music"

Welcome to day #17 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 Ruth at There is no such thing as a Godforsaken town to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project with another piece Palmer Hayden. Just one more day, and then we'll move onto sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller.

Here are the poems in the series so far:

"A (Sub)way of Looking" after The Subway, 1930 by Palmer Hayden
"Girl to Mama" after Madonna at the Stoop by Palmer Hayden
"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 Untitled by Palmer Hayden. I was drawn to this piece instantly -- maybe because I DO dream of music. :) However, I feel like "dreaming of music" os a bit of a cliche... so I wanted to do something different. Often when I am fighting a cliche, I find that "less is more." (Which IS a cliche! Ha!) And that's exactly how I was able to move forward -- by thinking short and punchy. I don't know... this was the best I could do with the time I allot each morning for this process! I DO like the unexpectedness of the trumpet blast being the sound that put this man to "sleep at last."

Night Music

easy feet

guitar strum
dream hum

trumpet blast
sleep at last.

- Irene Latham


  1. Thanks for the link, Irene, and thanks for "Night Music." I've been so enjoying your project this NPM!

  2. I like your fast moving-syncopated beat poem it works well with this surreal feeling painting, thanks Irene!

  3. Love this! I have no idea how you come up with a new poem every day around an image. I especially love the musical rhythm in these lines.

  4. Your entanglement in CLICHE made me laugh!


Your thoughts?