Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Michele Voltaire Marcelin

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Michele Voltaire Marcelin

The final spotlight for Haitian Heritage Month is on Michele Voltaire Marcelin.  She is a poet, painter and writer. Her work has been published in French, English, Spanish and Kreyol. She also writes in three languages. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States in D.C., the Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center and at the National Museum in Haiti. I saved her for last because Hubby and I chose her poetry to be featured at our wedding reception in 2012.

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Here is one of our favorites:

Dreamscape 

 what magic names of places
shall i whisper in the dark
while you hold me
so we travel at least through the night

what sweet syllables of cities
ancient or new
what bird-laden trees
in what gardens
shall i offer you
so that at last i see the world with you

walk with me
through streets i have loved
in buenos aires, aix, lisbon, jacmel
keep your steps aligned with mine

walk with me
in venice
there is an alleyway called paradiso
i want you to kiss me there
in istanbul
a church of holy wisdom
where we will on the altar light candles

there is somewhere in port-au-prince
a crumbling wall fired with hibiscus
where blossoms wait to be chosen by you
to flower my hair
or shall we go off on a barge
floating on the seine
when the city darkens and the bridges spread
across the silent river
will we be drunk with each other
or will it be the boat dancing on the water

there is a stretch of sand i remember
in valparaiso
crusted with salt from the waves
we will leave our footprints there
drink pisco in a secluded bar in santiago
sit in pelhourino square in salvador
later i will giggle as you carry me
on the stairs to the capri grotto
somewhere there is a bed unmade
in a new york hotel
where we’ll return at dawn to make love
as sleepwalkers do
after seeing the ghosts of jazz musicians
at the blue note

somewhere someday we’ll go away
but tonight let’s recite as we would poems
names of places
that await our pleasure
hold my hands my beloved
look in my eyes
tonight let’s travel in our dreams
while we remain immobile in the dark

 

I hope featuring Haitian poets this month has opened you up to writers that you may have never had the pleasure of discovering on your own. I know choosing to celebrate my heritage this way has been a wonderful and educational experience for me.

Happy reading!

 

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!