January 19, 2010

Creole Poetry.

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 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


Depi  lapli
Pa  vini  ak  van
Siyati  chovsouri
Chaje  mi  prizon


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.


Sixteen year old girl
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
san kretyen

Si sete vre
Si sete vret

ala diri
ak mayi

ki ta genyen
la peyi

They say

human blood

If that were true
If that were true
my friends

how rice
and corn

would thrive


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

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