Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Crossroads Poems by Jean Dany Joachim

Jean Dany Joachim

Review by Lo Galluccio

by Jean Dany Joachim
Copyright Jean Dany Joachim 2013
125 pages

It is a lovely book, an approachable book, a heartwarming book: Jean Dany Joachim's newly released "Crossroads"/Chimenkwaze with poems in both Creole and English.  I was privileged to hear Jean Dany read from this book at the Cambridge Public Library's new auditorium space a week or so ago.  And while he read his son Danyson was always in his arms or at his feet wanting to be near him.  Jean Dany's son is clearly the apple of his eye and that somehow just amplifies how soulful and wonderful his book and his vision are. Jean Dany's mantra or slogan is "Life is Good."  And for a man who hails from a country where dictatorship and disasters have struck hard and wrought their damages, this is fairly remarkable.   In fact,  he said that though he has lived in the United States about 15 years,  he almost always writes about Haiti.  What astounds me about Jean Dany's work is that it is clear and simple without ever being trite.  Very few poets can render the give and take of the heart, of life and death, of nature, of friendships as transparently and as truthfully as he does.  Open to any page in this book and you will be delighted by how easily and profoundly Jean Dany captures things.  In "Formula for a Poem" he writes:

    'if you can't write a poem
    Write anyway
    Pay no attention to your pen
    Write the title
    Read the title
    Pay no attention to the page."
                                                          p 21

He makes it seem like a magic trick, one that should require little effort, a simple equation of just a few things.    He is saying, "Do not be self-conscious about it."  And he isn't.  In the poem "The Old Hat' he writes:
    "I have seen the birth of dreams
    I have seen a thousand paths
    And seen cathedrals
    I am the shadow they seek no more
    I'm the one they take no more out...
    They call me the old hat."
In this way he breathes new life into that cliche or familiar saying, "old hat."   The old hat'
is an old soul who has traveled deep and broad.   It is a clever turn of the phrase, though
Jean Dany is careful never to over-emphasize or become too elaborate.   Sometimes he
pens a three stanza short poem, as in "Dinner:"
    "My bowl of rice
    Laughs at me
    And the walls too.
    Yet I know of some
    Who feel just like me
    At a candlelight feast
    I squeeze my pain
    And laugh back."

It seems like a Zen koan or a riddle, a wonderful twist.   Hardly ever is the writer all alone
in his observations; more often he includes the reader, or makes universal what his own
experience might be. 
In "Sorrow" he writes:
"It's raining in my heart
But my eyes show no sign of it
I feel it deep in my guts..."
Many of his poems are dedicated to a specific person, as if he is writing to communicate to a special friend.   In "Don't Look Into My Heart" he writes:
"Don't look into my face
to  tell me you saw my heart

I am just as  i am
In a bet with life
And I am not willing to lose
My joys, my sottows
Do not own my face
I do not feel it when I am hurt
And when I give a good kick to life
I also feel it."

One of my favorite poems is "Death" in which he uses butterflies to designate the mystery
of our passing.  He writes:
"Butterflies of death
do not feel the cold
Butterflies of death need no key
A snall white butterfly
A colorless one
A butterfly of death
That breaks my heart forever."
Instead of choosing an obvioulsy dark or sinister metaphor or sign, like a scorpion or a rat, Joachim chooses a light and whimsical creature to signify death.  And this turns our presumptions upside down.  Death still breaks his heart, but it is not so heavy or painful. And I like that.  It is an interesting relief.  Death is almost fragile and emphemeral.

Other fine poems are "A Love Letter" and "Desire" and "A River calls your Name."
Though he is rarely explictly political, the poem "After the 48 Hours Ultimatum Speech
Before the Invasion of Iraq, by G.W. Bush. President of the United States." he writes:
"While our leaders rise  up to gods, and
Our soldiers to glorious barbarians
Here, I will stand searching for that little spot on the sky
Where God might be --Let's hope that He is watching."

There is much to be gained in reading this extraordinary book.  It is like drinking from a clear
spring of water.   There is so much hope underlying what is primal, what is upheaval, what is uncontrollable.  There is so much love for our humanity and such respect for the  mystery of existence.    It is a book you will want to refer to again and again. 

Jean Dany Joachim is the 2nd Poet Populist of Cambridge
He teached at Bunker Hill Community College and runs
a poetry series in Cambridge.

***** Lo Galluccio is the Populist Poet of Cambridge, Mass.

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