Sunday, April 22, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Trio"

Welcome to day #22 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance. Today is a travel day for me... happy to be heading home after a great time in NYC.
Before we get to today's poem, please be sure and visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project with a look at painter William Johnson! Here is a quote I found in the book HARLEM STOMP by Laban Carrick Hill:
“My aim is to express in a natural way
what I feel both rhythmically and spiritually,
al that has been saved up in my family
of primitiveness and tradition. – William H. Johnson


“his work contained the Expressionist quality of broad, emotional paint strokes and bright colors that was very much informed by his exposure yo European Modernism. Many African American critics, however, were put off by his work because he seemed to them to be reinforcing cultural stereotypes of the ignorant, unskilled Negro rather than the cultured 'New Negro' they were so committed to promoting.”

Turns out that Johnson's earliest works were mostly landscapes. After traveling to Europe, Scandinavia, and North Africa during the 1930s, Johnson came back to the States with a Danish wife and a new commitment to featuring African American subjects in a simpler, folk art style. We'll stick with Johnson for the rest of the week!

Here are the poems in the series so far:

"To a Water Boy" after The Water Boy by Meta Warrick Fuller
"Storytime" after Storytime by Meta Warrick Fuller
"Sorrow" after Sorrow by Meta Warrick Fuller
"My John Henry" after When John Henry Was a Baby by Palmer Hayden
"Night Music" after Untitled by Palmer Hayden
"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

Today's piece is called Art Class - Three Men. I like the easy camaraderie I see in this piece,,, it reminds me of writing with friends! Here's where I landed:

they gather
with easels, brushes
to paint themselves
to another life:

one sweeps canvas
with a conductor's
broad strokes,

another tends
to tiniest details
with a surgeon's precision

the third
pauses a moment,
giving his imagination
ample time
to reach muscles –

a symphony
of color,

- Irene Latham


  1. Beautiful Irene, love this line, "to paint themselves
    to another life:" I often think about music with art so I like your "symphony
    of color,
    Rich painting they both (your poem and painting) are singing the same song, thanks!

  2. All together making art, all separate, being themselves and content with that. I love the way you celebrated the different aspects of how differences can form "fellowship".

  3. "giving his imagination
    ample time
    to reach muscles"

    Isn't that the truth of it?!?!


Your thoughts?