At first glance, one might get the impression that he is about to read a replica of René Depestre’s Festival of the Greasy Pole. However, Maswife or (Greasy Pole) is something deeper, more genuine and holistically Haitian. Maswife is Patrick Sylvain’s newest collection of poetry foregrounded in a quest to perfectionate or beautify, if you will, the quintessential importance of the Creole language. Here, I use the word “Creole” instead of “Haitian-Creole” because I believe Creole is not bound or confined solely to Haitian. I’m not sure if the poet himself agrees to this extended name.
When I was introduced to Love, Lust and Loss, almost ten years ago, an earlier collection written by Sylvain, I was completely won over by the carefully chosen words, words of poetry or poetry for the soul, that Patrick Sylvain put forward to sway his readers. Because the collection was bilingual (Creole and English) and because of my petit-bourgeois instincts, a contrition I must admit, I struggled with my inner self in an attempt to keep my focus in the Creole version of the collection. In the struggle, I lost the ingenuity embedded in the Creole prose—needless to say that I was more fluent, then, in reading English than in Creole.
This time, a rekindled Sylvain goes full swing in Creole with a new focus, a new paradigm aimed at leaving his stamp in the great debate over our Caribbean/Asia-Pacific Creolophone dilemma. “Literati pa yon jwèt voye-monte, se yon ekrito-artizana ki mande anpil rechèch,” the poet concedes. (Literature is no folklore. It is a well crafted literary work that requires extensive research.)
Condensed and well-written in deed—in pure sweet Creole—one can’t put it down once he is hooked. The entire collection is a joy to read, but two poems have struck a chord in my heart: Lapriyè pou Defile (page 31) and Siril (page 79). The latter takes me back to almost twenty years, when I read Kantik Malere, a poem from our late Maxo Calixte’s Jenjanm—a collection published in 1984. In Siril, the poet puts us face to face with thousands of earthquake victims of the latest tragedy that left Haiti in the brink of total collapse.
When I read Siril, I had just watched Assistance Mortelle, Raoul Peck’s latest documentary on Haiti. Siril was just an overdose on a heart and on a mind that were sinking, taking me further to a dazed state of melancholy.
Poetry can shake soul as well as create social change. Sylvain penned this latest collection on a premise of change, pedagogically, culturally, socially, and of course linguistically. Maswife, as many others will say, is a collection that all Creolophone should read. Patrick Sylvain, like Roger Aubourg , Maxo Calixte, Paul Laraque to name a few, takes his readers to a new height, a new plateau in his quest to frame his seat in the pantheon of great Caribbean poets.
“Quand l’histoire pose à un peuple la question de vie et de mort, il est naturel que la poésie devienne arme quotidienne et que la vie elle-même devienne poésie quotidienne,” Paul Laraque once tells us. (When history has forced a people to choose between life and death, it is quite normal that poetry becomes its daily weapon and that life itself becomes a daily poetic struggle.)
Maswife offers a glossary for readers who will certainly face new words they may not be familiar with. Readers will also enjoy a wonderful intro written by Dr. Lunine Pierre-Jérome, a distinguished scholar, who teaches Creole at the University of Massachusetts and who is a well-known advocate in the fight for the Creole language. Dr. Lunine Pierre-Jérome is also a founding member of Haitian Creole Language Institute based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Maswife is published by Trilingual Press, and can be purchased on Amazon.com and on the publisher’s website: www.tanbou.com/trilingualpress/
Note: Dr. Ardain Isma heads the Center for Strategic and Multicultural Studies (CSMS). He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of North Florida (UNF). He is a novelist and also chief editor for CSMS Magazine. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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