How to write a poem for Haiti part 2…

Last night I watched some of telethon Hope for Haiti which featured a variety of high profile actors and musicians. Morgan Freeman read a excerpt from this poem by New Orleans poet Kalamu ya Salaam. The poem in it’s entirety is listed below. The bolded section is what Freeman read. A link to Freeman’s reading can be seen here.

Tomorrow’s Toussaints

this is Haiti, a state
slaves snatched from surprised masters,
its high lands, home of this
world’s sole successful
slave revolt. Haiti, where
freedom has flowered and flown
fascinating like long necked
flamingoes gracefully feeding
on snails in small pinkish
sunset colored sequestered ponds.

despite the meanness
and meagerness of life
eked out of eroding soil
and from exploited urban toil, there
is still so much beauty here in this
land where the sea sings roaring a shore
and fecund fertile hills lull and roll
quasi human in form

there is beauty here
in the unyielding way
our people,
colored charcoal, and
banana beige, and
shifting subtle shades
of ripe mango, or strongly
brown-black, sweet
as the such from
sun scorched staffs
of sugar cane,
have decided
we shall survive
we will live on

a peasant pauses
clear black eyes
searching far out over the horizon
the hoe motionless, suspended
in the midst
of all this shit and suffering
forced to bend low
still we stop and stand
and dream and believe

we shall be released
we shall be released
for what slaves
have done
slaves can do

and that begets
the beauty

slaves can do

How to write a poem for Haiti…

I have yet to post about the recent earthquake in Haiti. The state of Haiti was already fragile at best and the recent disaster seems to have ripped the already wounded country wide open. It may seem frivolous to think about poetry during a time where people are crushed beneath broken buildings or sleeping on the street or starving or a half dozen other horrors that are occurring in Haiti right now. However, after the initial shock of the devastation, my first thought was, who will be the first poet to write about this event?

I had similar thoughts in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. My own personal need to write, to document was surprisingly strong. I wanted to write poems, badly, about all these events but they were slow to come. In fact, some of them are still coming. I finally wrote a poem about 9/11 more than five years after it happened. These events are thorny subjects for me when it comes to getting them down on paper in a form that even begins to do them justice. I know my biggest fear, and I suspect I share it with many other writers, is that I will not accurately portray the event. That the poem will offend instead of inspire or whatever else it was meant to do.

The New Yorker has published this poem by Aime Cesaire, “Earthquake” (translated by Paul Muldoon) and it is the first poem I’ve seen in direct response to Haiti:

such great stretches of dreamscape
such lines of all too familiar lines
staved in
caved in so the filthy wake resounds with the notion
of the pair of us? What of the pair of us?
Pretty much the tale of the family surviving disaster:
“In the ancient serpent stink of our blood we got clear
of the valley; the village loosed stone lions roaring at our heels.”
Sleep, troubled sleep, the troubled waking of the heart
yours on top of mine chipped dishes stacked in the pitching sink
of noontides.
What then of words? Grinding them together to summon up the void
as night insects grind their crazed wing cases?
Caught caught caught unequivocally caught
caught caught caught
head over heels into the abyss
for no good reason
except for the sudden faint steadfastness
of our own true names, our own amazing names
that had hitherto been consigned to a realm of forgetfulness
itself quite tumbledown.
I’ve spent the afternoon reading The Metaphysician in the Dark by Charles Simic. Last night I taught three poems by Simic in my creative writing class. The poems were “Watermelons”, “Coal”, and “Fork,” and my students responded very well to all three. The essays I read this afternoon are a lot about art and its relation to poetry, which is something that’s always interested me. I teach ekphrastic poetry in my classes and I like reading about how different poets are influenced by painters, sculptors, and photographers. Simic speaks of this triptych by Bosch:

He also mentions the photographer Abelardo Morell. His website can be found here. A few of his photographs below :

Some of my favorite quotes from the essays I’ve read today:
“Much of lyric poetry is nothing more than a huge, centuries-old effort to remind our immortal souls of the existence of our genital organs.” “In the Praise of Folly”
“Empty space makes us discover our inwardness.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“I, too, wish to make contact with some unknown person’s inner life. Out mutual hope is to bequeath a phrase or image to the dreamers so that we may live on in their reverie.” “The Power of Ambiguity”
“The alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about.” “Verbal Image”