OPB Radio’s Literary Arts: The Archive Project featured award winning Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat speaking about the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti from a 2010 presentation with the Portland Arts and Lectures.
She mentions Haiti’s nickname, terre glissée or “slippery ground,” and expounds on the metaphoric and literal connotations of that phrase. With the devastation still on everyone’s mind, Danticat tells of both her own and her family’s experiences during and after the earthquake, mentioning that her cousin Maxo was killed. She witnessed bodies in the rubble and an “altered human landscape” of so many people with injuries. After the quake, Haitians would simply call it “the thing,” or “the devil dancing,” or even onomatopoeias like “gudugudu.” Referencing several other Haitian writers throughout her lecture, such as Dany Lafferière, Danticat discusses the role of the artist who comes from a place of loss, including the importance of bearing witness.
We’ve been working on writing with all of our scenes, and most recently writing to describe the land. Her vivid and emotional descriptions of the impact of the earthquake, described with spiritual metaphors, poetic grace, destructive similes, and survivor humor, are examples of the diverse ways a writer can not only describe the land, but the impact of the land on the creatures that walk its surface. She comments on the Haitians description of themselves as “We are ugly, but we are here.”
There is poetry often in Haitian language, through proverbs, through the way that we try to interpret tragedy.
…I kept wondering, would there be poetry amidst the Haitian ruins?
…The Angel of Death is more democratic [than God]; everybody goes.
LISTEN: The original 52 minute recording is available at the bottom of Edwidge Danticat – The Archive Project on the Literary Arts Site.