Friday, April 20, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Storytime"

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup... and some celebratory words for the release of her anthology IMPERFECT. Congratulations, Tabatha and contributors... more on this in May!

Welcome to day #20 of 2018 ARTSPEAK!, in which I am focusing on art and artists from the Harlem Renaissance. Today I am still enjoying events with Charles Waters in New York City... and we hope to make it to Harlem. :)

Before we get to today's poem, please be sure and visit Linda at Write Time to see how our Progressive Poem is progressing!

Today I'm continuing my Harlem Renaissance poetry project with a look at sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller. Tomorrow will be our last day with Fuller... then on to William Johnson!

Talk about a woman ahead of her time! Fuller was a poet, artist and sculptor -- the first African American woman sculptor to rise to any sort of prominence. She was also a feminist and activist. Her works celebrated African American heritage and focus mostly on themes of identity -- never shying away from the horrible (see A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence). Even Auguste Rodin admired her work. And here is a favorite quote from Fuller herself:

“Let us train ourselves to see beauty in 'black.'”

Here are the poems in the series so far:
"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 Storytime. First I was thinking of all the sweet things I could say about storytime. But that would be kind of cliche, wouldn't it? Then I remembered how Fuller's known for her bravery in addressing terrible things. That word "terrible" stuck in my brain... it made me think about what helps me through a terrible day, and that is so often reading and creating poems/stories! And so my poem became a story of sorts... and it rhymes! I am generally not a rhymer. But this seemed to fit this poem. Here it is:

Won't you tell me a story –
it needn't be too long.
Just tell me a little story
about something gone terribly wrong.

Maybe a girl forgets her lunch,
or a boy can't tie his shoe.
A dog has lost its human,
or a carrot jumps out of the stew.

It doesn't matter what happens.
What I need to hear about is after.
So tell me a story of triumph –
with a dash of action and laughter?

Won't you tell me a story –
it can be great or just okay.
Yes, tell me a little story,
so I can get through this terrible day.

- Irene Latham


  1. Clever rhymes, Irene. Stories are the best for getting through terrible days and escaping the memories of terrible years.

  2. Wonderful! Love the sculpture and your poem's unique premise. Carrots jumping out of stew made me smile. :) It's been so interesting learning about these new-to-me artists this month. Thank you!

  3. Stories and poems are soothing to me as well, Irene. If I'm having a bad day, I head to Kindergarten with a book. Reading to the kids always cheers me up, and puts a smile on their sweet faces!

  4. Oh, I do love these lines, Irene:
    It doesn't matter what happens.
    What I need to hear about is after.

  5. I like that it can be "just okay" as long as there's a bit of laughter and triumph in it. Thank goodness for stories!

  6. Beautiful poem Irene, it has a soft tone but carries such a strong and important message, "so I can get through this terrible day." Makes you appreciate what's really important. Powerful sculpture also–along with her sculpture for Mary Turner, thanks.

  7. I like reading about your own thoughts before writing, another way to approach this poem. That thought of wanting to hear the "after" and the "triumph" comes from terrible need. I love that you saw that, Irene. And I like the rhythm that you chose, story-like!

  8. Love this poem, Irene. I don't know what you plan to do with it, but I think it would be a perfect poem for the SCBWI Bulletin. They always begin the bulletin with a little poem that is somehow connected to writing/creating. This poem perfectly describes what we set out out to do with our words.

  9. Oh...the power of stories. Your poem brings back memories of begging my parents for stories of their childhood--hoping to find a way through my own days.

  10. Yes, this is just right. Lovely! Thank you!

  11. It doesn't matter what happens.
    What I need to hear about is after.
    I love those two lines! I was just at Molly Hogan's blog and she wrote about things that happen just outside the picture frame....which reminds me of your lines. It's what isn't explicit....the parts we make up that our minds love to play with. What a beautiful sculpture. I think you've paired a beautiful poem to it.

  12. Yes, we all need to hear about the triumph after so we can imagine it in our own lives...or better, make it happen!


Your thoughts?