HAITIAN CREOLE POETRY, Open Gate, 1-30
Reading poetry and interpreting it.
Read your poem to your new partner. Choose a reader.
Develop a short, 2 minute summary of the poem.
What is it about? What are key ideas and terms in the poem?
Does the poem rhyme (in Haitian Creole?)
Does the poem express ideological positions or influences?
How does the poem open a gate to understanding Haiti?
What is the structure of the poem?
3. Down with all candidates
4. Sometimes I'm not myself
6. What did they think they did?
7. The poor man's life
9. Exile is stale bread
A few terms about poetry...
Blank verse is a type of poetry, distinguished by having a regular meter, but no
rhyme. In English, the meter most commonly used with blank verse has been
The units of poetic meter, like rhyme, vary from language to language and between
poetic traditions. They can involve arrangements of syllables into repeated patterns
called feet within a line. English meter is traditionally conceived as being founded
on the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Free verse (also at times referred to as vers libre) is a term describing various styles
of poetry that are not written using strict meter or rhyme, but that still are
recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that
readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole.
Open Gate, 30-60. Questions for discussion.
1. Describe Kastera's view of death in I have a comrade (31) &
Cemetary gate (33).
2. What are some of the primal or basic poetic images of Haiti given by
Kastera in Zilch movement (35)?
3. What type of social movements are called for in Both yesterday and
4. In A 16 year-old girl who's standing, why do you think she is
5. In A Clay Pot Broken why does the author curse Christopher
Columbus, Apollo 13, Petionville and automobiles? (49)
6. In Haiti Tomorrow, what is the tone? What elements are identified
for Haiti's progress? (51)
7. How does the poem Hooker treat the matter of prostitution? (53)
8. What are Haitian attitudes toward prostitution? What about your
9. What is a vyewo/viejo? (57)
10. What themes are addressed in this poem?
Open Gate pages 60 90
1. Women of my country
3. They're leaving with a bridle around the neck
4. With your assigned poem and friend
5. Speech/Caribbean Islands
1. Determine the type of poem
i. How is it organized and structured?
ii. Is there rhyme? As far as you can tell, is there meter?
(e.g. patterns in the syllables within lines).
2. What is the message of the poem?
3. What metaphors are used in the poem?
4. Are the images obvious or obscure?
5. Why use one or the other?
6. Are there references that are unique to Haiti and Haitian
7. As the reader, what insight, if any, can we gain into Haiti?
8. What is your favorite line or verse? Why?
HAT 3503, Haitian Literature. Identify the poem/author with the extracts given below [2 pts each].
Coumbite/Hilario Batista Felix
Zombies arise/Alexander Akao
I'm rooted/Ren6 Philoctete
Georgina/Cauvin L. Paul
Snowcone Vendor/Josaphat Robert Large
A Philosophy/Jean R. D6sir6
The poet/Clotaire Saint-Natus
The walls of bois-de-chene shacks/Carlo R6sil
At Krome Concentration Camp in Miami
they sit and wait looking ahead"
"Atop a pile of stinking trash
They see a dead body laughing
They're laughing over that as well
So they don't end up losing a taste for life"
they knocked until
the Good God
"The cart was circulating under the moon
turning rolling rushing through Post Marchand streets"
"But this morning I wake up
With salt on my tongue"
"I'm tired on sing hymns
Tired of burying the dead
All the ribs of Haiti are showing
From cutting trees to make coffins..."
in a whirling dance
seeking life, wow!
her toe-kick gets stuck in
the eye of Brigitte Bardot"
"Still I stay
because there's a tree I love on the road to Grand'Anse
"Two whaps on the Assotor
to spread the news to the 4 comers
of the world"
10. "We're going to create a collective
I'd love for all of us to go to"
Open Gate, 90-125
Questions for pair work & discussion
1. What are the themes in "Wongl6 Poem" (91)?
2. Who are the people addressed in "I'm writing a poem" (97). Why address a poem
to these people?
3. In "Changes," what is meant by the boujwazi reyaksyonne, "the reactionary
bourgeoisie? What is the poet's goal?
4. What kind of philosophy is expressed in "A philosophy" (113). What do you
think of cripples' philosophy? Does the poem rhyme? How?
5. In the poem "Dream", what is the dream?
6. What is "Snowcone vendor" really about? (119) What are some of the aspects of
Haitian culture reflected in the poem?
Interpret the following lines of poetry:
"Lightning streaks and passes
Weapons are drawn and fired
Ancestors rise and stand up
A ruckus breaks out at Ayida's..." (Eugene 91)
"...with a revolutionary society
where all will be united as one." (Wainwright 103)
"For a piece of democracy (107 Dede)
Washington is teasing Haiti
How stingy Washington is, papa!
...It's the big name kills the little doggy
servant of Washington..."
Ethnic Haitian Literature
See Arthur & Dash, 1999, 289-293
Boisrond Tonnerre, 1804
Early 19th century preoccupations
Historic defeat of Napoleon's army
Haiti's redemptive mission
Haiti's literature as light in context of
French barbarity and primitivism
Oswald Durand, Choucoune, 1880 (early Creole poetry)
Late 19th century
Realistic depitions, see Frederic Marcelin
Political prose, see Antoine Innocent
Early 20th century
La Ronde, literary group that criticizes celebratory, nationalistic verse
Haiti's political instability from 1910-1915 (i.e. 7 presidents)
Neo-colonial nature of U.S. Occupation
New wave of nationalism
1929 strikes at the School of Agriculture
Indigenisme in the 1920s;
La Trouee, La revue indigene
1930s and 1940s
Noirisme = belief in the essential Africanness of Haiti's national identity.
Louis Diaquoi, Lorimer Denis, Francois Duvalier
Les Griots = black nationalism, Vodou mysticism
Communism: Roumain's "visionary marxism"
The new community built on archaic culture, the divisive past
Rewriting the peasant novel
Political ascendancy of noirisme (see also negritude)
Jacques Stephen Alexis = killed by Tonton Macoutes
Rene Depestre = national poetics not racial poetics; lived in exile
Duvalierism: xenophobia, racial mystification, militarism and authoritarianism as
an extreme Haitian negritude.
Oeuvres essentielles, Frangois Duvalier
Radical formal experimentation
Never overtly political, avoided censorship
Critiques of dictatorship
Depestre, Festival of the Greasy Pole
Marie Chauvet, Love, Anger, Madness
Emergence of a supra-national sense of identity in the diaspora.
Dany Lafferiere Comment faire l'amour avec un negre sans se fatiguer (1985)
Questioning of the pieties of Haitian nationalism
The blind parochialism of cultural authenticity
Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)
Open Gate, 180 219
1. Kout poud desounen Zaps of zombifying powder
Who is the they in this poem?
2. What does Gary Daniel mean when he says:
"Makes me sad seeing
Bouki and Malis lost
In the house of Donald Duck" (191)
"With the Creole garden cursed
Under the bower of the zobop jinxes" (193)
4. Explain, interpret:
"White men create a black calvary,
Our hands on our jaws
Because of the dictators" (195)
"Graft those tiny buds
Of knowledge, to make
Tomorrow glow with victory."
Open Gate, 202-219
1. How does Spring by Simidor (203) stick out from the other poems?
What do these lines make you think about?
2. The title of the poem "Slippery Ground" makes reference to what?
Explain these stanzas....
3. What has power over "demons" in the poem "Autozobop" on p. 211?
6. What sentiment is expressed in "We pass through a foreigner's house"
(215)? What does the "the dove" symbolize? Is it effective?
Convincing? Is the poem xenophobic (fear/hate of foreigners?)
7. How does Ms. Boadiba represent women in power in "Madam President"
"For my birthday I want...
And the sun's kilowatts..." (217)
1. Discuss the issue of LIBERATION from the poem Coumbite. Who gets
liberation? Is the concept of LIBERATION broad enough?
"...come with portraits of Jesus Christ, Bolivar, Toussaint
and Marti, Dessalines and Ch6.
Because in this coumbite we're going to finish,
finish the task of LIBERATION..."
Whether you're white or black
Woman or man...
What about controversial LIBERATION issues such as gay rights or gay
marriage? Does the Haitian understanding of LIBERATION exclude this
human rights issue?
2. Interpret How:
"...How could young men and women
full of hope in the future
produce fake tin-cans
rubber trash bags and dolls of kings
in a military cap factory in Brooklyn?"
3. What are the three main themes of the poem How?
4. The poem Go There wants us to go where?
5. Select a favorite poem and tell you partner why you like it. Be ready to
share your ideas with the class.
6. What words would you use to describe the Haitian Creole poetry in Open
Gates. Can you find any descriptors that capture common themes/concerns?
7. Why do you suppose Haiti has not yet produced epic poetry when it has an
epic history and epic heroes?
The Dew Breaker, "The Book of the Dead"
1. What are some of the ethnic groups in this story? Why is the
author so attentive to race? accent? culture?
2. The narrator, born in Flatbush, NYC, says she's from Haiti... why?
3. Who is the narrator? What kind of woman? Her habits?
4. Who is the narrator's father? Why does she lack photos of him?
5. Who is Garbrielle Fonteneau?
6. How does the Cuban cleaning worker remind the narrator of her
7. What aspect of Egyptian culture obsesses the narrator's father?
8. What happened to the narrator's sculpture?
9. Explain, "Ordinary anger is useless." (p. 16)
10. Explain the link between the Egyptian concept ka and the
Haitian concept of ti bonnanj.
11. What painful story has Ka's father been hiding from his
12. Explain: "...Like all parents, they were a society of two, sharing
a series of private codes and associations, a past that even if I'd
been born in the country of their birth, I still wouldn't have
13. Describe how things go with the Fonteneau family.
14. Why would the "unfamiliar" of the U.S. be so comforting to
15. Explain: "Why are his wife and daughter "his kas, his good
angels, his masks against his own face."
16. How is this story different from Open Gates or Masters of
Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker, "Seven"
1. What is the importance of the number 7 in this story and in
folklore, religion and numerology?
2. Describe his living arrangements.
3. Who is his landlady? What kind of a relationship does he have
with her? What kind of social class/race discourse emerges on
4. How does he get his roommates ready for his wife's arrival?
What kind of things does he do/change to prepare for her
5. Who is Abner Louima?
6. What are his two jobs? How many hours does he work at
both? And what is the significance of this?
7. What happens to his wife at the airport in NYC?
8. What is the meaning of his wife's trimmed chicken feathers?
9. Did he and his wife enjoy a long marriage before his departure
for the U.S.?
10. What were his strategies for staying in the U.S.?
11. Why does Danticat tell us the ethnicity of his grocer?
What is it?
12. Who is Patrick Dorismond?
13. Where will his wife have to work? Why? (p. 46)
14. Explain their mutual infidelities after he left for NYC.
15. What does Carnival have to do with this story?
16. Explain: "...a temporary silence, unlike the one that had
come over them now" (52).
Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker, "Water Child"
1. What is the place of the epistolary segments in this story?
2. Who is Nadine? Where does she work? What are some of the
3. What is the underlying pain that Nadine is dealing with?
4. What are some examples of Creole in her speech? Why does she
pepper her English with Creole? Do you know anyone who does this?
5. What early indications does the author give us about the mental
instability of the protagonist, Nadine?
6. How is the theme of silence brought out in several ways?
7. What happened to Nadine? How has this impacted her life?
8. Describe Nadine's relationship with her parents.
9. How is Nadine seen at work?
10. Who is Ms. Hinds? How is she a different patient from the
11. Who is Eric? How does he resemble the male character in
12. Is Nadine "the guarded" or the "guardian" for her parents?
13. Describe Nadine's phone conversation with her parents.
14. Describe Nadine's alter. What does she put on it?
15. How does the number 7 reappear in this story?
16. How does Danticat end this story? How does the ending
resemble the end of "Seven"?
Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker, The Book of Miracles
1. Why the title The Book of Miracles?
2. How does Anne perceive her daughter?
3. How does this story link up with The Book of the Dead?
4. Does it link up with any other stories so far?
5. What happened to Anne's brother?
6. Explain: "many unexplained aspects of her parents' life, was
connected to 'some event that happened in Haiti.'"
7. What kind of miracle
8. What stands out about the decorations in the Catholic church?
9. How does Anne's husband shroud his identity in the U.S.?
10. Who does Anne's daughter think she sees at the Church?
11. Why is this ironic?
12. Why is the daughter's 'righteous displeasure' about Constant
13. How is condemnation of others a "freedom" Anne doesn't enjoy?
14. What does Anne's daughter want to do at the end of Mass?
15. Explain: "...her life was a pendulum between forgiveness and regret,
but when the anger dissipated she considered it a small miracle..."
Night Talkers ~ The Dew Breaker, Danticat
1. Who has Dany lost?
2. Why is Dany back in Haiti?
3. Describe Dany's trip back to his family's village.
4. Who is Old Zo?
5. Who is Estina Esteme? Her work? Her health?
6. Describe the natural setting around Estina's home.
7. What connection does the U.S. have with this mountain village?
8. Describe Claude. What's his story? Why does Danticat include him
in the story?
9. How was Claude received in Beau Jour?
10. Explain the story of Dany's discovery. Why does he not confront
this person? Why doesn't he avenge is family? What would you do?
11. Who is Ti Fanm?
12. How does the community plan for the funeral of Estina?
13. What do we learn about Estina at her wake? What do we learn
about the Haitian wake itself?
14. What do you think Dany is going to do with his knowledge? Why
did he have to tell his aunt, Estina?
The Bridal Seamstress, 121-138. Edwidge Danticat
1. How does The Bridal Seamstress fit in with the other stories we have
read so far?
2. Who is Beatrice Saint Fort? What painful story torments her?
3. Who is Aline Cajuste? What is she doing at the home of Beatrice?
4. How does Danticat show us the age of Beatrice?
5. Who are the neighbors of Beatrice?
6. What kind of man was Beatrice's neighbor? (Creole term)
7. What does Aline find out about the neighbor?
8. Read the bottom of page 137 138. How do the last 2 pages make
9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this story from a technical
point of view (character development, style, dialogue, plot evolution,
believability, images, methophors [figure of speech used in place of
Identify/explain in 1 sentence.
1. Far Rockaway, Queens
2. "Dolly Rodriguez"
3. Beatrice Saint Fort
4. Aline Cajuste
5. Somerville, Massachusetts
6. Marjorie Voltaire
7. Chouket lawoze [lawouze]
Edwidge Danticat, "Monkey Tails," 139-164
1. How does this story begin? What year is it in Haiti? Why are the
dates of this story so important?
2. Who is Rosie? Describe the restavek in Haiti. How does Rosie typify
this category of person. What types of tasks must Rosie undertake?
3. Who is Romain? What is he to the male narrator?
4. Can you think of any typically Haitian metaphors in the story?
5. How was the tomb of Fran9ois Duvalier desecrated?
6. Describe the business of Romain's mother.
7. Who is Regulus?
8. Why do the narrator and Romain go to a lavish hotel?
9. What do we learn about the narrator's father, Christophe?
10. How does Regulus' life come to an end?
11. Why the title Monkey Tails?
The Dew Breaker, The Funeral Singer, 165-183
1. What are some of settings in which this story takes place? What are
2. Who is Brother Timonie?
3. Why is the story named The Funeral Singer?
4. What reflections of President Duvalier do we find in this story?
5. How does the torturer theme of this book return in this story?
Describe the demise of the narrator's father.
6. What is Casernes Dessalines?
7. Why does Freda abandon Haiti? What are her reasons?
8. Explain: "we raise our glasses to the terrible days behind us and the
uncertain ones ahead."
Book of the Dead
The Book of Miracles
The Bridal Seamstress
The meaning of the story
Connection with other stories
Uniquely Haitian attributes
Deep insights into life
The Dew Breaker Questions for review
How does this story take us full circle?
Is it plausible that these two marry? Why is this part of the story so
difficult to believe? Describe their first encounter.
How does the story portray the Duvalier dictatorship?
Terms: Miliciens/Volunteers/Fillette Lalo/Tonton Macoutes
Describe the confrontation between the torturer and the preacher