Thursday, March 02, 2006
SPARKS IN THE DARK
Selected Poems by Jacques “thehaitianfirefly” Fleury
I’ve had the good fortune of knowing “the firefly” for about a year now, featuring him first in my column for the North Cambridge Alewife, “Words & Music”. It was in fact exactly a year ago, March 2005, when we talked about his childhood in Haiti, his mother’s red dress (which almost cost her life to the gangster Ton Ton Macoute) and his profound love for her. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti he told me that he came to America when he was 13, but not on an immigrant boat, on American Airlines. And there begins the wondrous “zebra stripes” of a maverick poet with Jacques’ humor, fortitude and transition to a new world. He looks back and he looks forward in his latest release of poems with a strikingly passionate Purple Rain cover. The dedication reads:
“For my dear and relatively sainted mother, who is the most intrinsically beautiful woman I have had the pleasure of knowing and will ever know and who knows me better than anyone else alive today! Thanks for believing in your very own, “Garcon MamMam.’
In his opening piece, The Totally Unfabulous World of a Haitian Firefly, he goes through his coming of age, leaving Haiti behind, with his courageous mother insisting:
SNAP OUT OF IT!….Haiti is behind us now.” And then he writes, “Still I sleep in a clamorous still, in nightmares influenced by subversive ideologies….” Yes the poet’s imagination remains haunted by his roots, the exploding guts of a country called, Haiti.
In the next selection he affirms just who he is, in Creole with line by line English translations: “the haitian fire fly that’s me.” “I grew up taking blood baths, basking in the epoch of oppression.” “I am a Creole poet” “but my nation was occupied by the French.” “But still I am a Creole poet.” “My Caribbean spice rack is stock full of flavored stories…”
From The Haitian Fire Fly Speaks!
And indeed Jacques is full of spice and sparks of language about his experience, the world he sees, the light and darkness in it, those he loves, friends he is inclined to practically worship with words…as in A Goddess Intervenes, for Colleen, the Goddess of Love, which I heard him recite at Squawk just a week ago….
Interestingly, Jacques is so empathic the last few lines remind of me of something Colleen herself might write:
“One day she opened her eyes in horror/to see the moon a reddish color!/to see her world of beauty in fury/crumbling around her like a fallen deity/so then she crumbles too;/ having been made of snow,/ with wrath of the wind broke through her window,/then there she lies like the ashes of winter,/succumbed to the intemperate weather/then I watch her die, beautifully die. From A Goddess Intervenes
Jacques is a rarely blessed talent who blends together a strong historical awareness and sensuality and unusual syntax that is both compelling and enlightening. Sometimes his poems are pitched to an almost Shakespearian crescendo, and then there is the child-like brilliance of a poem like, Krik Krak:
I am like an almanac
So use me to count your days
War was here and war did play
Bruised bodies are on their way”
I am like a tic tac
Sweet smelling breath of storms
We are pulled from our roots feeling forlorn
Fallen over knee deep in crap flowers grow thorns…”
I say you said what?
Werewolves walk around in sight
Creep back in your mother’s womb in fright
But sooner then later all must come out to fight!”
You say you want a revolution, well read Jacques’ poems. He has his eye on the past and the future and his own yearnings. He has his eye on America and Haiti. He has his heart in love with people who sustain and teach him. And Jacques knows in his abundant soul, how to give back.
NB: Also, you will find Jacques’ column on the Alewife website, http://www.thealewife.com/, currently a tribute to Black History month.
His book is available at his readings and at The Out of the Blue Gallery on Prospect St. in Cambridge. Go and buy it! Check him out!
Ibbetson St. Press
Cambridge Chronicle > Arts & Lifestyle
Poets come for coffee, bagels, and community
By Shanti Sadtler/ CorrespondentThursday,
March 2, 2006 An eclectic community of local poets is sprouting in the basement of a local Finagle A Bagel.
"[I] come out of isolation, to connect, make relationships with other creative people," said IRENE KORONAS, a member of Breaking Bagels with the Bards. "It's brought me back to life again."
Koronas is the group's "word catcher," meaning she records interesting words and phrases during the meetings.
Breaking Bagels with the Bards is a group of professors, professionals, artists and writers bonded by their interest in poetry.
Members attend to exchange information on performance venues, new books and upcoming poetry readings. Through the connections made at Finagle, members, such as MATT ROSENTHAL, have had their work published.
"This is my publishing crowd right here, but it wasn't intentional," he said.
Rosenthal, an Internet advertising sales representative, was unpublished when he joined about six months ago, and now his poetry has appeared in contemporary anthologies.
By 10 a.m., a record 24 people squeeze around four pushed-together tables, taking up about half of the otherwise empty basement. Groups between two and four people chat about their most recent projects, such as a book or a Web site. The table quickly becomes a mess of colorful photocopied fliers, newspapers, business cards, books, coffee cups and water bottles. Co-founder HARRIS GARDNER sells an assortment of poetry books out of a plastic shopping bag.
DOUG HOLDER said he founded the group March 2005 with Gardener because the university-centered Cambridge poetry community was exclusive.
"The poetry world here in Cambridge is very cliquish. You're either in the university, or you're out," Holder said.
Holder's group includes all levels of poets, from professors to the unpublished. There are currently about 32 members, 10 of whom attend regularly, and new members join every week.
"It's getting bigger and bigger every week. We're having to move more tables around," Koronas said.
Breaking Bagels with the Bards is open to all and meets every Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Harvard Square Finagle A Bagel basement.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
The Beat Face of God: The Beat Generation Writers As Spirit Gudes: Stephen D. Edington with forward by David Amram. ( Trafford Publishing http://www.trafford.com/) $18.
I remember picking up a copy of "On the Road," by Jack Kerouac at a bookstore in Downtown Crossing, Boston 30 years ago, and being unable to put it down. At the time, I was in my early 20's and struggling to define who I was. This book spoke to me like no other. After devouring it I was like an addict, I had to read everything by Kerouac and the "Beats." "On the Road," spurred me on to more reading, and eventually to an advanced degree in literature, poetry publishing, etc... When I read "On the Road" now at 50 I don't feel the same way I did then, but I can remember that seminal rush. Stephen D. Edington's,( who I met at a reading at the Squawk Coffee House in Harvard Square,) new book: "Beat Face of God..." writes:
"On the Road," is a classic coming-of-age novel-whether one attends college or not--in that it speaks to the universal experience of having to define oneself both in relation to, as well as counter to, one's upbringing, with all that upbringing contains. While the exterior landscape of "On the Road," is the geography of America in the late 1940's, the interior landscape is the soul of Sal Paradise as he struggles with the question we all encounter in our coming-of-age years: Who am I?"
Edington, a Unitarian minister in Nashua, New Hampshire, has written a book about the spirituality of Beat writers, and theorizes that the Beat movement may have been be a religious one. Edington defines religion as a reaction against that fact that we live with the knowledge of our own death. Religion tries to bring some meaning to life in light of this. Edington's thesis is that the Beats were the embodiment of this quest for meaning.
Edington provides a credible argument for this, even if at times he stretches a little. He examines the spiritual journey of many of the Beat generation writers such as: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, etc... Kerouac wanted to see the "face of God," hence the title. He was asked why he wrote "On the Road," he replied "Because we are all going to die." And it seems that Beats, whether it was William Burroughs attempting to exorcise his "ugly spirit," Neal Cassady's perpetual manic motion across the country to stay "outside of time," or Diane di Prima's attempts to find transcendence in a 1950's world that confined women to gilded cages, were all in hot pursuit of meaning.
On the subject of "Beat Woman," Edington provides an excellent quote from the poet Gregory Corso. Corso had a keen insight as to why women were marginalized in the movement:
"There were women, they were there, I knew them, their families put them in institutions, they were given electric shock. In the 50's if you were a male you could rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up..."
There is no paucity of books about the Beats, but Edington brings a fresh and fascinating perspective into view with this fine collection of essays.
Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/ March 2006/Somerville, Mass.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Robert Pinsky Reaches New Operatic Heights
Some years ago a letter I wrote about the poet Robert Lowell, and his poem “Waking In The Blue,” was published in the first edition of “America’s Favorite Poems,” that the former poet-laureate of the United States Robert Pinsky edited. So my friend poet Harris Gardner and I jumped at the chance to attend a lecture and private reception at the “MIT Media Lab,” that we were invited to. I have always admired Pinsky for his “Favorite Poem Project,” that has produced anthologies of selected poetry and letters from ordinary, and for the most part non-poet Americans. Pinsky was going to talk about his ambitious, on-going project; as well as his work with Tod Machover of the Media Lab that involved a collaboration on an opera titled: “Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant.”
The opera, still in development, has robots as its main characters that are in the midst of an enigmatic transformation. Pinsky said he is not that well-versed in contemporary opera, but he is excited about the project. He feels “liberated” working on the libretto, with both rhyme and language.
Pinsky’s eyes took on a new light when he discussed his “Favorite Poem Project.” Pinsky wanted to collect poems that “real” Americans were willing to read and loved. When he showed a video of Americans reading from their favorite poems, (A DVD is included with the latest anthology) his philosophy of bodies and breath as the essential artistic components of poetry took on new meaning. There were animated readings of favorite poems by children—to a construction worker from Quincy, Mass. reciting “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman.
Pinsky feels that often when academics read great poems they don’t really hear the poem. They drone on and on during their reading of the poem and the excitement is lost. The Americans who read their poems made it clear that this genre of expression is still alive and kicking.
MIT English professor and Conrad scholar, David Thorburn, an old friend of Pinsky’s from Stanford University, exchanged anecdotes about the old days with the celebrated poet much to the delight of the audience. Thorburn opined that Pinsky’s poetry has changed over the years from conversational to more visionary work. Pinsky replied that he makes no conscious decision to be more visionary in his work; it is just an organic process in his writing.
Pinsky also talked about his new book: “The Life of David,” an account of the biblical poet-king. Pinsky said he was fascinated by David because he was a walking contradiction. He was in Pinsky’s words, “… a great killer and poet, the quintessential hero, and a consummate politician.”
During the Q and A session Pinsky talked about the inaccessible quality of contemporary poetry. He said often young poets don’t want to appear naïve and the inaccessible style protects them from this. Pinsky told the young poets in the audience that they must risk seeming stupid in their work. They must take risks to be authentic.
After the lecture there was a reception at the MIT Stata Center where Pinsky held court to a flock of admirers. He is an affable, approachable man, not to mention a scholar and poet; the perfect person for bringing poetry back home to the ‘people” where it belongs.
Doug Holder. Feb. 2006.