Tuesday, April 10, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Sometimes Books Are the Only Playground I Need"

Welcome to day #10 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 Matt at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme 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:

"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! The first painting I've selected is of a girl reading.

Sometimes Books Are the Only Playground I Need

I swing across pages,
slide down polished words.

Instead of cloudwisp skies,
I enjoy brushstroke art –

colors bloom on every page!
Papa says art tells its own story,

same as my plaid skirt
says something about me.

Does that mean I'm sassy?
Smart? Colorful?

It's something to think about
as I see-saw each page,

inviting these pictures

to merry-go-round my world.
- Irene Latham


  1. Hi Irene! A happy poem. I like that you including children's play within this young girl's life: including the plaid skirt, plus 'see-saw each page' and "Merry-go-round my world."

  2. Love the bright colors in the painting. The references to playgrounds including the swing and the slide make this poem a lively one. I even love the way she's leaning on the table, poised for action.

  3. Oh, I love this poem! I need to share this one with my students.

  4. It looks like she is ready to literally dive into that book!

  5. I love the idea of "books as playground." And your last two stanzas! So perfect!

  6. "..as I see-saw each page"

    "Inviting these books
    to merry-go-round my world."

    As wonderful as Mr. Haydens art is of the enraptured reading child, your poem is soul-lifting. I love it, especially the above lines.


Your thoughts?