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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Haitian poet: writing can heal pain

Published: January 28, 2011
Section: Front Page

Slam: Patrick Sylvain leads a discussion of Haitian art and literature Thursday evening. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Anthony Losquadro/The Hoot</i>In observance of Haitian remembrance and dedication month, the student-founded Brandeis Haiti Initiative hosted Professor Patrick Sylvain from Brown University this week to lead a discussion of Haitian art and literature on campus.

Professor Jane Hale of the Romance Studies department introduced Sylvain while expressing her determination that Haitian culture should have a bigger presence on campus.

Sylvain began by describing the trust he holds in young people. “I don’t trust adults,” he said, “my trust is in the young folks, because they don’t have destructive agendas. I absolutely believe in the youth, because they can really change and empower the world with their energy.”

Sylvain then explained his inspiration behind poems from the book, “Open Gate,” and how he struggled to learn to write about the love of others, and later about his own process of finding love. As the discussion progressed, Sylvain continued his poetry reading on a more difficult topic, about the January, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. “There is no anchor for anger and no anchor for despair,” he read. “Life mocks us with sadistic laughter. I need a stronger port to anchor their souls.”

The final poem Sylvain shared, expressed his frustrations with how long it took the Haitian president, 19 days, to respond to the catastrophe in Haiti. Titled “Stanzas to a Silent Executive,” Sylvain wrote, “The angels must be exhausted from seesawing the axis of life and death.”

Following the poetry reading, Sylvain held a discussion with the audience, and talked about how he processed the trauma of the earthquake in Haiti, and then learned to write about his feelings. “Ones who have been traumatized must go through the trauma to process it, only then can they free themselves,” Sylvain explained. “First you must live and witness the pain, then you must be driven to the page to relieve your pain, and finally, you must write about it.” He continued, saying “pain is something we must confront eventually, if you repress it, it’s going to come out somewhere else.”

As he continued, Sylvain explained that he came to the United States as a college student in 1981, but he still goes back to Haiti often. “It’s tough,” Sylvain said, “the United States is my home, but sometimes I hate it because of the discrimination I face.” He then said he has learned to cherish the pragmatism of Americans, and called the American make-it-yourself culture amazing.

“Haiti is tough,” Sylvain noted. “I’m not going to romanticize about Haiti. I am fortunate, because I have a passport. While most Haitians become literate and self-made in the United States, the danger is when they go back to Haiti, they forget the conditions in which they lived, and act like big shots. That mentality is like a cancer to the poor people.”

Sylvain continued to express the difference in mentalities between Haiti and the United States regarding money, saying that in Haiti, individuality is not welcome, and that because of the level of poverty, it is important to Haitians to remember the collective. While in the United States, there is no obligation to share your money.

Over the course of his discussion, Sylvain repeatedly expressed how much faith he has in the youth of the world. “There’s a moment of discovery,” Sylvain said, “when innovated youth come up with something miraculous, just from talking to people, and seeing what works best for a compromise.”

The Brandeis Haiti Initiative has raised 30,000 dollars to date, and continues to host speakers like Professor Sylvain, in order to spread the message of their mission.