Harlem Poet Masters

Katrina was a creative writing major back at Howard University and City College.   It’s where her love for Harlem started and how her interest in black literature really began. At Nilu we all really feel Katrina’s love for Harlem lit too, and wanted to share a few of those poems/quotes that have stuck with us over time.

Photograph of Zora Neale Hurston


Awaking in New York - Maya Angelou

Curtains forcing their will   

against the wind,

children sleep,

exchanging dreams with   

seraphim. The city

drags itself awake on   

subway straps; and

I, an alarm, awake as a   

rumor of war,

lie stretching into dawn,   

unasked and unheeded.


The Day-Breakers - Arna Bontemps

We are not come to wage a strife

With swords upon this hill,

It is not wise to waste the life

Against a stubborn will.

Yet would we die as some have done.

Beating a way for the rising sun.



On Broadway - Clause McKay

About me young careless feet

Linger along the garish street;

Above, a hundred shouting signs

Shed down their bright fantastic glow

Upon the merry crowd and lines

Of moving carriages below.

Oh wonderful is Broadway — only

My heart, my heart is lonely.


Desire naked, linked with Passion,

Goes trutting by in brazen fashion;

From playhouse, cabaret and inn

The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze

All gay without, all glad within;

As in a dream I stand and gaze

At Broadway, shining Broadway — only

My heart, my heart is lonely.




Nella Larsen

New York’s the lonesomest place in the world if you don’t know anybody.



No Images - William Waring Cuney

She does not know

her beauty,

she thinks her brown body

has no glory.


If she could dance

naked

under palm trees

and see her image in the river,

she would know.


But there are no palm trees

on the street,

and dish water gives back

no images.



The Tropics in New York - Claude McKay

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root,

      Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,

And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,

      Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,


Set in the window, bringing memories

      Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,

And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies

      In benediction over nun-like hills.


My eyes grew dim, and I could no more gaze;

      A wave of longing through my body swept,

And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,

      I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root,

      Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,

And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,

      Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,


Set in the window, bringing memories

      Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,

And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies

      In benediction over nun-like hills.


My eyes grew dim, and I could no more gaze;

      A wave of longing through my body swept,

And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,

      I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.



From Seventh Street - Jean Toomer

Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,

Bootleggers in silken shirts,

Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,

Whizzing, whizzing down the street-car tracks.



James Baldwin from his Article: A Report from Occupied Territory 

‘I can’t believe what you say,’ the song goes, ‘because I see what you do’”



Zora Neale Hurston from Their Eyes Were Watching God

“No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.” “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don't keer if you die at dusk. It's so many people never seen de light at all.” 



Harlem Shadows - Claude McKay

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass

In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall

Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass

To bend and barter at desire's call.

Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet

Go prowling through the night from street to street!


Through the long night until the silver break

Of day the little gray feet know no rest;

Through the lone night until the last snow-flake

Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,

The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet

Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.


Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way

Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,

Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,

The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!

Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet

In Harlem wandering from street to street.



Juke Box Love Song - Langston Hughes

I could take the Harlem night

and wrap around you,

Take the neon lights and make a crown,

Take the Lenox Avenue busses,

Taxis, subways,

And for your love song tone their rumble down.

Take Harlem's heartbeat,

Make a drumbeat,

Put it on a record, let it whirl,

And while we listen to it play,

Dance with you till day—

Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.

 

My Little Dreams - Georgia Douglas Johnson

I’m folding up my little dreams

   Within my heart tonight,

And praying I may soon forget

   The torture of their sight.


For time’s deft fingers scroll my brow

   With fell relentless art—

I’m folding up my little dreams

   Tonight, within my heart.


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