Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Kettly Mars

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Kettly Mars

Today’s feature is Kettly Mars, an award-winning Haitian poet and novelist. I wanted to feature her for a very specific reason, besides her talent. She worked as a administrative assistant for several years and didn’t begin to pursue her writing until she was in her 30’s. I love that she knew it wasn’t over because she started down one path and had the courage to go down another. She has written seven novels and several poetry and short story collections including young adult. She writes in French but her work has been translated into Kreyol, English, Italian, Dutch and Japanese.

 

My hand and the stone (as translated by Alexander Best)

.

My hand and the stone,

sage rebellion of noble particles

gripped in my palm.

I’ve made my own her reality:

grey, heavy, oval.

Millennial stone

whose cry

lays claim to nothing other than a

defiance of oblivion.

 

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Jacques Roumain

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Jacques Roumain

My second feature for Haitian Heritage Month is poet, novelist and politician Jacques (Jean Baptiste) Roumain. Born in 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Roumain was one of eleven children and became one of Haiti’s most prominent figures until his untimely death in August of 1944.

In the late 1920’s,  he founded two literary newspapers La Trouee and La Revue Indigene and a political newspaper, Le Petit Impartial, to protest the presidency of Louis Borno for working with the U.S. government during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934. He was even arrested at one point for “violating press laws.”

Later on in his career (and after Borno’s presidency), he was appointed to Ministry of the Interior. Roumain even traveled to the United States to study economics but while here, suspicions were aroused he joined the American Communist Party. Because of fear of arrest. he returned home and was convicted for conspiracy and treason and three years in prison.  In 1936, he was freed and moved to Belgium.

In 1938, he moved to Paris where he wrote several articles chastising the Haitian political elite. Over the next several years, Roumain was arrested for “mounting an affront” against a foreign head of state in France, fled because of World War II, spent time in Havana, Cuba and eventually returned to Haiti in 1941. He was a diplomat of the Haitian embassy to Mexico City and returned to Haiti in 1943 because he had fallen ill.

A notable literary connection was his meeting with famed poet Langston Hughes on his one and only trip to Haiti. Hughes even translated some of Roumain’s works, included Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew).

While researching Roumain, what impressed me most, was whether you agreed with his political beliefs or not, one cannot deny his passion to stand up for them. He has been described as a poet, novelist, politician, ethnologist and revolutionary.  And it all ended at the age of 37.

Here is one of his most famous poems:

When the Tom-Tom Beats

our heart trembles in the shadows, like a face reflected in troubled water
The old mirage rises from the pit of the night
You sense the sweet sorcery of the past:
A river carries you far away from the banks,
Carries you toward the ancestral landscape.
Listen to those voices singing the sadness of love
And in the mountain, hear that tom-tom panting like the breast of a young black girl
 
Your soul is this image in the whispering water where your fathers bent their dark faces
Its hidden movements blend you with the waves
And the white that made you a mulatto is this bit of foam cast up, like spit, upon the shore

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Marie-Celie Agnant

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight:  Marie-Celie Agnant

May is Haitian Heritage Month and the 18th is especially notable because it is Haitian Flag Day. Both my mother and father were born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I must admit I haven’t taken the time to read more work by Haitian writers besides a couple like the famed Edwidge Danticat. I decided in honor of Haitian Heritage Month, I will highlight Haitian writers for my Tuesday posts.

The first of which is Marie-Celie Agnant. She was born in Haiti but has lived in Quebec, Montreal since 1970. She has written several novels, books of poems and novellas. Her work has been translated into several languages including English, Dutch and Spanish and has worked with Bread and Puppet Theater of Vermont.

Here is a poem by Ms. Agnant I found particularly moving:

Gonaïves

nothing but the memories
of the days before death
the ocean
and its gentle song
the ocean
and the empty void

empty boats returning
carried by the wind that stirs the empty air

empty hope
and shacks emptied of fishermen
with their empty hands

and children’s eyes
full right up to the eyelids
with the horror of a world
empty of all compassion

nothing left here but what was
and the sky
to collect the resentment
of those who no longer have the strength to shout

nothing left here
but the restless souls
of the dead
that we try to bury
beneath slabs of time

hereafter paradises are
houses for the dead

I would so like to write another story
tear the black veil of night
find a path to the end of night

but there’s nothing left here
nothing but endless night

and the great bare sun
in the immensity of empty sky

 

Because of my limited French, I was glad to find so much of her work translated into English. I, for one, am excited to envelop myself in more of this talent’s work.

Happy Haitian Heritage Month!

 

 

She’s Still Here

She’s Still Here

On Saturday, I was back at Afro-Caribbean dance class. It had been a few weeks because of holiday, cancellations, illness, etc. I was ecstatic to join the group of smiling faces for the last class of 2017. Towards the end of every class, our instructor has us gather in a circle. Some people get out in the middle of the circle and dance while the rest of us clap and cheer them on.

One of the fabulous dancers settled next to me at one point during this time. We were both smiling and clapping at this gorgeous little girl who couldn’t stop herself from throwing herself in the middle and jumping around with her parents. Nothing but pure joy. The woman next to me leaned in and said “We all have a little girl inside of us just like her.”

And that’s when it hit me. I have learned not sit on the sidelines with my writing in 2017 but the woman who used to embrace the center of the dance floor has not made an appearance in a long time. Anyone who really knows me remembers that I may not have always been the first person on the dance floor but I was certainly never the last. If I was feeling the music, that was it. All she wrote. I don’t know if it’s my island roots (Ayiti!) or the fact that my family was never shy about burning up the dance floor when I was younger. Til this day, watching dancers makes me tear up. The type of dance has never mattered to me-belly, ballet, modern, African, jazz, hip-hop. The fluidity, the sharp and precise movements and the grace of the dancer has always spoken to me.

Anyway, after she leaned back and the music continued to pulsate throughout the circle, I found myself drawn, not all the way to the center but away from the sidelines and let the beat find me.

And even if only for a few moments, the little girl inside of me made an appearance.