Monday, April 16, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "A (Sub)way of Looking"


Welcome to day #16 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 Sarah Grace Tuttle 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 two more days!

Here are the poems in the series so far:

"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 The Subway, 1930, which is fitting, because later today I will be in New York City! Yay!

As I was thinking about what to write, it seemed to me that the subway hasn't changed all that much. If anything, we are MORE isolating than ever, what with all our devices and earbuds, etc. Here's where I landed:




A (Sub)way of Looking

No one sees anyone
on the subway.

Bodies press close/close
but mind-doors whoosh shut

before handholds are secured
and train jerks forward

on a track that clacks,
me me me me me –

What if, instead,
everyone looked someone

right in the eye,
smiled a good-day smile,


said, hi, how are you?

- Irene Latham


2 comments:

  1. I've had the subway experience and with my students, too. Then, many people talked with the students, asked why they were in New York, etc. But that was a while ago, and more seem to be on their cells today. However, the painting also shows some disconnect among the passengers, doesn't it? And you've done it, too, with the wonderful "mind-doors whoosh shut". Have a great trip!

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

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