Tuesday, April 24, 2018

ARTSPEAK! Harlem Renaissance poem "Midnight Party"

Welcome to day #24 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 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading 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:

"Summersong" after Children at the Ice Cream Stand by William Johnson
"Trio" after Art Class by William Johnson
"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 Harbor Under the Midnight Sun. I learned that it depicts Svolvear, a fjord in Norway, where Johnson lived for five years. It reminds me so much of van Gogh's Starry Night... magical! And I guess I had our Progressive Poem and Amy's new line referencing Lee's party in my mind as I was writing this one, because a party is where I landed! However, I must confess: a midnight partier, I am not! I really like my sleep and prefer to wake early rather than stay up late. And, I look forward to revising this one because how cliche is "endless summer"? Sigh... I ran out of time! (Cliches often appear in my early drafts... and that's okay! Important not to stress about them. Always another draft to make it one's own....)

Midnight Party

egg-yolk sun
hangs low,
bathes mountains
in happy glow

sailboats welcome
newcomer –
let's celebrate
endless summer!

- Irene Latham


  1. Such love for any poem that has the words celebrate and summer in the same breath. Now if spring will just arrive for good, summer can get ready to arrive. Love the colors in the painting!

  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

  3. Yes, let's celebrate! I have a craving for an egg-yolk colored sun dress :)


Your thoughts?