Creole Poetry.

Via on Jan 19, 2010


Creole Poetry from Haiti, translated by Merete Mueller with Dominique Herard.

In 2005, as an undergraduate student at Naropa University, I translated a collection of poems from Haiti, all originally written in Creole.

I found a Haitian Creole dictionary at the University of Colorado library and went through each poem, translating word by word, sending the finished poems to my oldest and dearest friend, Dominique—who speaks fluent Creole—to approve and critique.

Throughout the process, I was struck by how little I knew about Haitian history, despite the fact that the United States, being one of the island’s closest and most powerful neighbors, has had a huge influence on Haiti’s development and its struggles as an independent nation.

The poems that I translated provided a window into the culture and life of Haiti—which includes intense pain and suffering, along with longing and hope, joy, rhythm and music.

As the world turns its attention towards the little country in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, I offer these poems as a reminder of Haiti’s culture and history, of its and art and its accomplishments and its people.

photo copyright Haiti Innovation
Photo courtesy Flickr user Haiti Innovation

Why Creole, instead of French?

Haiti was the second country in the New World to declare independence, after the U.S., in 1804, and was the world’s first independent black nation. Until the 1960s, French was considered the official language of the country, even though upwards of 90% of the Haitian population (all but the very educated and wealthy) spoke only Creole. Creole was declared the official language of the country in 1961, but even today French continues to be the only accepted language in the government, as well as the legal and educational systems.

This means that with 90% of the country speaking only Creole, an overwhelming proportion of the population is without a voice.

So the fact that the following poets chose to write in Creole is a powerful political statement. And the music of the Creole language is an integral part of their work—the Creole language has a rhythm and a power that I think would have been missing if the authors had chosen to write in French. I encourage you to read not only the English translations, but also the Creole originals. Notice the repetition and weaving of words…read the originals out loud—even if you don’t know how to pronounce them—to get a feel for the sound and the beat of the language.

For more Haitian poetry and notes on the Creole language, check out my blog, where I’ve posted another, longer poem. I also recommend Open Gate: An Anthology of Creole Poetry from Haiti, translated by Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.

Dominik Batravil

PAPYE 33

Depi  lapli
Pa  vini  ak  van
Siyati  chovsouri
Chaje  mi  prizon

PAPER 33

As long as rain
marks no wind
signatures of bats
burden prison walls


Woudof Mile

Yo Ti Fanm Sezan Ki Kanpe

On ti fanm sezan
ki kanpe
kwen gran ri ak ri demirak
a onze diswa
lan yon to wob fatigue

On ti fanm sezan
ki kanpe kon yon I
anba on galeri
Li pa p’tann pesonn moun
Selman lakay li
manman-l grangou
prêt pou mouri
lit pito ret kanpe la
gwo onze diswa
lan fredi anba yon galeri
sou gran ri.

A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL STANDS

Sixteen year old girl
standing
corner of Miracle and Main
at eleven p.m.
in a faded dress

A sixteen year old girl
stands alone
under the arcade
Not waiting for the bus
Not waiting for anybody
at home her
starving mother is
about to die
But she’d rather be standing
here with the eleven
p.m. crowd in the cold
on Main Street.

Suze Baron

YO DI

Yo di
san kretyen
enrichi
late

Si sete vre
Si sete vret
mezanmi

ala diri
pitmi
ak mayi

ki ta genyen
la peyi
D’Ayiti

They say

human blood
enriches
soil

If that were true
If that were true
my friends

how rice
millet
and corn

would thrive
in
Haiti


LENOUS SUPRICE

TI BO LANMOU                                                         LITTLE LOVE KISS
(Pou A-F.L.)                                                                        (For A-F.L.)

Soley kouchan                                                             Sunlight reclines
Ti bouch ou                                                                  your little mouth
K’ap pentire                                                                 paints my eyes with
Syel grenn je-m                                                           flecks of sky
Fe dan-m siret siret                                                    My sweet mango tender
Nan dan-w                                                                   between your teeth
Fe dan-w siret siret                                                    Your sweet mango tender
Nan dan-m                                                                   between mine
Fe mwen domi                                                             I fall asleep
Nan bra-w                                                                     in your arms
Fe ou domi                                                                    You fall asleep
Anba-m                                                                          down below me

About Merete Mueller

Merete is a writer and filmmaker, and was once-upon-a-time the Managing Editor of elephant journal's print incarnation, from 2006-2008. Today, you can find her on Twitter @meretemueller and on her blog To The Bones. Her first documentary, "TINY: A Story About Living Small", about people who have downsized their lives into homes the size of a parking space, premiered at SXSW in March 2013.

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26 Responses to “Creole Poetry.”

  1. Elize says:

    very moving, thank you so much for sharing…

  2. Anna says:

    Just beautiful Merete. Its good to remember that Haiti is strong and will always have its beauty.

  3. Peggy says:

    Merete, thank you for sharing these moving poems. Haiti needs appreciation and love sent to them right now as well as money. I am struck by your curiosity as a young student to sift through a library for a Creole dictionary and amazed you found one. How are actions bear fruit when we least expect it. It reminds me of the fearless cellist who insisted on playing
    in Iraq in the rubble when Bagdad was being bombed. Thank you for this.

  4. Just realized that I didn't include information about the original poets, who deserve most of the credit for the power of these words….

    DOMINIK BATRAVIL (Dominque Batraville), was born in Northwestern Haiti in 1962. He was raised by his mother, a descendent of French Protestant emigrants, and spent his summers with his father, a doctor and traditional healer. Batravil left home to study in France and Brussels, and returned to Haiti after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. Since publishing his first book, written in both French and Creole, at the age of 16, he has worked as a journalist, literary critic, sports columnist, children’s book author, and comedian. He has acted in a variety of European and Haitian films, including "Royal Bonbon" in 2002 and "L’evangile du cochon creole", which was selected to appear at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

    WOUDOF MILE (Rudolph Muller) began publishing work in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. Born in Port-au-Prince in 1950, Mile won the prestigious Paulette Deschamps Frisch Literary Award in 1977 for his bilingual French and Creole poetry book, "Parol anpil/Paroles en pile".

    LENOUS SUPRICE – also known by the pseudonym Nounous – was born in Haiti in 1955. He has lived in Montreal since 1976, and worked as a primary, secondary, and adult-education teacher since 1987. He has published three books in French. His book of Creole poetry, "Bwamitan", was published in 1993.

    SUZE BARON has lived in Brooklyn, New York since leaving Haiti in 1955. A registered nurse, she writes as well as translates Creole poetry into English.

  5. michelle says:

    Thank You! Merci! i will be reading most of these poems tonight at a Fundraiser for Haiti here in Sault Ste Marie, Canada.
    Michelle

  6. david murphy says:

    I sent you a poem i hope it was the correct e mail can you confirm e mail

  7. eworkflow says:

    Great post, thank you.

    Robin Koyokka, can I use your poem in a community blog post with a full credit? The post will also contain few original images of Haiti. Should I contact you via http://www.online-literature.com about it or this will suffice?

  8. Akhristin says:

    God is our creator
    His gift to us is love
    As a community of hope
    We can crush all doubt
    To replinish all that is lost

    Mother nature is always blind to purpose
    There is a reason outside fault
    We must unite to rebuild a nation
    With the obligation to restore life

  9. [...] month after the devastating quake that killed 230,000 people there is still no 911 a Haitian can call, even though people are still dying—now from starvation, infection, contagious diseases [...]

  10. [...] © Jan Sochor at Flickr Tap-Tap bus, Port-au-Prince [...]

  11. Saç Ekimi says:

    Nice blog, thanks for information.

  12. [...] For more notes on the Creole language and Haitian poetry—as well as more poems—see my recent blog for elephantjournal.com. [...]

  13. Elizabeth Charles says:

    Robyn,
    I as well am impressed by your soul and the love in it. I would like to use this in my speech class tomorrow
    at my community college. Liz Charles

  14. I discovered your web site while researching for something distinct on Yahoo and bing about topics related to movies, however I had the chance to go through this blog post and I found it extremely useful indeed.

  15. luci13 says:

    i really like poem.!!!!

  16. jameson says:

    menm mapou a fini li jete fey li
    nan lizye tout lot bitasyon yo
    li souke ko l li pouse rasin jouk nan peyi moun soley leve yo
    menm mapou jete move ze li sou nou
    li fe lwa li bare rout nou
    li vole te nou…

  17. Hi my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing, great written and include approximately all important infos. I’d like to peer extra posts like this .

  18. editiondelince says:

    Excellent article and thank you for the translation.

  19. lebo says:

    Hello Robin,

    This is a beautiful piece and I was wondering if you would mind us using it at a benefit dinner we are having at my college. Ofcourse all credit would be given to you but as I have been researching this is by far the most fitting piece I have found.

    please contact me at rl028@bucknell.edu if you are interested.
    looking forward to your response.
    Lebo

  20. Jacqui says:

    Robin Koykka,
    What a beautiful . . . mind, you have. I am quite flabbergasted to have come across this. You are a genius.
    Jacq

  21. Robin Koykka says:

    yes go ahead

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