Poetry can shake soul in many ways. It can tenderize it, enflame it, or even move the fibers hidden down the deepest end of the heart. Saint Louis du Nord Devan Dèyè or Saint Louis du Nord Inside Out is an intriguing and soul-searching collection of poetry penned by Estimé Frader Saint-Ange, a young poet from Saint Louis, the legendary northern Haitian town that has been the talk—these days—of many readers and the focus of analyses in many literary venues.
An authentically engaged poet who writes with an immeasurable depth of sentimentalism, Frader Saint-Ange without a doubt has the tools to sharpen his skills and to ultimately take his readers to what Pablo Neruda called “the train of the last hour.”
From the get-go, Frader Saint-Ange lets his readers understand that he is a poet who is profoundly in love with ce petit coin de terre, de paradis (this enchanted little town) where he was born and where one could find in his eyes, his skin, his [kinky] hair…… a dazzling inheritance and all other characteristics that frame his intelligent being (page 9.)
Saint Louis du Nord Devan Dèyè, one must also say, is the perfect expression of old fashion regionalism (at its purest), something that many Haitian patriots, especially from the 1960s, used to warn about. Roger Aubourg in Poetry for the quest of Dawn conceded that regionalism would work best only when it is being down in a collective fashion, otherwise, he said, it can only serve to shed division and patriotic dubiousness in a country yearning for a national consensus to rid itself of its enemies.
Although this collection of poetry is not a vanguard for the elusive poetic justice, it is by no means a deviation of its title. Nor is it a rosy picture of a “picturesque town” that never seizes to capture the unconditional love of its children, myself included. Frader, while praising Saint Louis’ natural beauty, strongly disapproves of its mistreatments by those who are supposedly responsible to build the infrastructure. Instead, like the rest of the country and in a quest for financial windfalls, the authorities simple look the other way as they move blindly to profit of the town’s misery.
In Témoignage or Testimony, the poet can’t help it but to launch a cry for that poetic justice. It is an unspoken plea to save the Motherland (Saint Louis here). Pauvre Saint Louis chérie……J’ai vu tes enfants déambuler dans les rues[,] abandonnés à eux-mêmes….tes demoiselles trompées…ta jeunesse manipulée…..tes étudiants résignés…. (pages 32-34) I have seen your abandoned children walking around the streets aimlessly, your baffled young ladies, your manipulated youths, students resigned to their faith etc….
Within the same framework of a regionalistic sentimentalism, the poet equally recognizes the dark alleys of his town. In Saint Louis, it is not always rosy.
Saint Louis du Nord Devan Dèyè is written in both Creole and French and it is a thrill to read. Like the poet, my early years were spent in Saint Louis du Nord, which has become the focal point of my writings. As the holiday season is within reach, this collection of poetry must make Santa’s list. It can be purchased on Amazon and from other book sellers.
Note: Ardain Isma is a novelist and university professor. His latest book Midnight at Noon, which can be found on Amazon and others, is also drawn in part from Saint Louis.