rene depestre


René Depestre (born 29 August 1926 Jacmel, Haiti) is a Haitian poet and former communist activist.

Black Ore

When all of a sudden the stream of Indian sweat was dried up by the sun

When the gold-fever drained out the final drop of Indian blood in the market-place

And every last Indian vanished from around the mines

It was time to look to Africa’s river of muscle

For a changing of the guard of misery

And so began the rush to that rich and limitless

Storehouse of black flesh

And so began the breathless dash

To the noonday splendor of the black-skinned body

Then all the earth rang out with the clatter of the picks

Digging deep in the thick black ore

How many a chemist all but turned his mind

To making some new precious alloy formed

With this black mineral how many a lady almost

Set her heart on finding pots and pans

Of black Senegalese or a fine tea-service

Of stocky Caribbean pickaninny

Who knows what parish padre somewhere

Almost gave his solemn word

To get a churchbell cast in the sonority of black blood

Or what nice Santa Claus almost dreamed

Of little black tin soldiers

For his yearly rounds

Or what valiant man at arms

Would have gladly hewn his blade from this ebony metal

The earth rang out with the shake and shatter of the drills

Deep in the entrails of my people

Deep in the black man’s muscled mineral bed

For centuries now they have dug from the depths

The wonders of this race

Of mines of ore that are my people

Limitless vein of human dew

How many pirates have plunged their weapons deep

To probe the dark recesses of your flesh

How many plunderers have hacked themselves a path

Through the lush illumined vegetation of your body

Strewing over your passing days dead stalks

And pools of tears

O pillaged people dug up from top to bottom

Like land beneath the plough

People harrowed to enrich

The great markets of the world

Store up your firedamp deep in your body’s secret dark of night

Then none will dare to cast more cannons and more golden coins

From that black metal of your fury’s rising flood.

René Depestre

                                     translated from the french by NORMAN R. SHAPIRO


Négritude: Black poetry from Africa and the Caribbean.  Norman R. Shapiro. October House, 1970 ISBN: 8079-0164-4

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Hello :)

If you have time, this is a fascinating (and complete) documentary on the Premier Congrès des écrivains et artistes noirs (First Congress of Black Writers and Artists), which took place in Paris in 1956. I believe there are a lot of pan africanists on tumblr and this is an interesting look at a meeting that greatly shaped the black world. It focuses more specially on the experiences of francophone Blacks, but as you will see, it is not limited to them.

I also find this documentary honest, because it lacks the naiveté of just pretending all black people automatically got along very well, because well, they were black. It really takes time to explore how much nationalities do matter and shows how a sort of antagonism developed between blacks from Africa the Caribbean and those from the United States. It also considers how political and ideological differences made communicating and arguing for a common and coherent “black agenda” particularly difficult in the Cold War period.

As you may have guessed by now, this does not necessarily deals directly with Haiti, but you will recognize Jean Price-Mars at the Congress and also René Depestre, who reflects on his own experience at the meeting and its meaning in Black History. * This documentary is mostly in French but many of the specialists are African-Americans and do speak in English, so I am sure you will be able to grasp good parts of it.

anonymous asked:

Hey there, I am very interested in Haitian literature and I was told there is a lot of great books made by Haitian writers. I just want to start somewhere, could you recommend a book or two (or maybe just authors?)

Hello :)

This is not exactly a history-related question, and I am not a specialist on literature, but I can still try to help you to the best of my knowledge.

To reply to your first statement, yes, Haiti has indeed a very rich literature. After the United States, Haiti is surely the place in the Americas where its nationals have produced the highest numbers of literary works, per ratio (since the 19th-century). 

Now, I do not know if you are American, or can read French, but that may limit what you’ll be able to enjoy. In the Anglo-Saxon world, I suppose Edwidge Danticat is probably one of the most famous Haitian writers. I hear she is very good, but I cannot attest to that since I’ve never read one of her pieces. 

Now, if you truly want to appreciate Haitian literature, you will have to turn to French tittles. Right now, Dany Laferrière is probably the most “in vogue” Haitian novelist. (In fact, he was recently admitted to the prestigious Académie Française, perhaps the only black since Senghor.) Laferrière is not one of my favorites but he is almost idolized in Quebec where he currently resides. Other great writers include Frankétienne, Rene Depestre, Marie Vieux Chauvet, Jacques Stephen Alexis (who’s life was cut too short by the Duvalier regime),Félix Morisseau-Leroy and many more. These writers are not all part of the same literary movement and generation but I guess they are all interesting precisely for that reason.

* Oswald Durand, whom I almost forgot to mention, is also a very important and famous Haitian poet. (On a side note, he also wrote the poem “Choucoune” which became a hit song and that you may know under the English title “Yellow Bird” popularized by many artists like Harry Belafonte). 

Now, one of Haiti’s most famous writers is of course Jacques Roumain. If you want to start reading something now, I say go for Gouverneurs de la Rosée. This book is a masterpiece and really highlights the complexity of Haiti. It’s both in French and Haitian Creole. Personally, I never seen an English translation that made it justice. (However, if you really can’t read French there are many translations available.) The novel is mostly narrated in French but a lot of the expressions used by the characters are very specific to Haiti and this is why I think translations make the book loose some of its meaning. (I’ve known a lot of people who confessed they began studying Haitian history because this book moved them so deeply).

Now, again, if you read French I recommend looking for any book or article on Haitian literature by Léon-François Hoffmann. Hoffmann (whom I suspect began to study Haitian literature thanks to Roumain) gives a very good overview of Haitian literature through time, the complexity of writing when the literacy rate is low and the general interest for literature is often absent in more humble classes, the problem of writing in French when it is not understood by a great number of people, the problem of writing in Haitian Creole (when not only up until recently it was not considered a language but most people do not know it actually posses a grammar and a syntax (as it is not rare to see Haitian struggling to speak French yet (surpassingly) able read it; and yet, speaking Haitian Creole on a daily basis and not being able to read it at all). Hoffmann also looks at the problem of being a political exile (especially since the Duvalier era), the problem of identity (that oh-so-strange love/hate relationship with France) and so on. If you really want to purchase one of his books, I would recommend the newest edition of Essays on Haitian Literature

Anyway, I hope this helps :)

- Good day.