Wednesday, April 11, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Prayer for the Berry Pickers"

Welcome to day #11 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance. Today I am in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, at one of my favorite-ever events: Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival!

Before we get to today's poem, please be sure and visit Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project by introducing another artist, the third so far in this series: Palmer Hayden.

Here are the poems in the series so far:

"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. We'll be sticking with Hayden for the next week! 

Today's piece is called Berry Pickers. I've been berry picking before, and it brings warm family memories... and in this pic there appears to be three generations represented. Here's where I landed:

Prayer for the Berry Pickers

May tender sun ever guide
you to sweetness

May gray dog
rattle snakes from brambles

May your buckets hang light,
then heavy

May you know the flavor
of sunlight and rain

May your purpling fingertips
bring grins, giggles

May you leave plenty
for birds and bears to feast

May your love for one another
ripen, not rot

May warm scent of berries

ever remind you of this day

- Irene Latham


  1. Swooning over your lovely poem. What a great painting too!

  2. "May your buckets hang light,/then heavy"
    Sweet painting and poem xo

  3. Those memories come when looking at this painting. It's wonderful that you're sending a prayer way back for those berry pickers, Irene. And what a wonderful thing that Hayden has captured this time, these people, for us to remember. I like the blessing form you used, sweetly made.

  4. Having done a bit of blackberry picking in OK, the gray dog for rattling snakes (and our snakes were often rattlesnakes) is a good addition. When I read this one, I just had to click on the audio to hear your sweet voice uttering this prayer. Beautiful poem, Irene!

  5. I am with Ramona about adding your sweet voice to the poem. I think the artwork is gorgeous and it swirls and envelops the characters so your poem format is well-fitting Irene. Great lines: "May your love for one another
    ripen, not rot"

  6. I love this blessing poem. Purpling fingertips, love ripening and scent of berries ever remind you... Berries will remind me of this lovely prayer.

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


Your thoughts?