The last two and a bit days
Hear how the mouth,
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?
(Mark Doty ‘Difference’ – from My Alexandria)
Atelier de performance with Guy, Moe and Louis-Karl, trickster energy all round. They’re well met by the young male Haitians, ‘la performance aquatique’, passing of the water bottle a performance in itself.There is one in particular, with a face like Loki, a hook in the nose, a chin that curls slightly up. He’s vocal, provocative, knowledgable and a huge fan of Josephine’s poetry. They talk about Situationism. Mischief recognises – and challenges – mischief.
At one point, we all get up. I roll in the dirt a bit. I’m feeling grotty, but also in need of a stretch. It feels good.
On the way back, traffic jams. It’s hot and bright. So we form a band in the van. Of course. Voila Tribe Called Sauge.* Wilkins, our driver, is patient, endlessly long suffering.
*it is a universally recognised fact that at least three new bands will be formed during any prolonged conference/festival/event, no matter where you are in the world, or in what language.
Back at the hotel, service is a little slow. We wait over an hour for an omlette, a sandwich. It’s verging on painfully hot. L’heure de chaleur.
More events, the Cafe in the evening. Another performance, then home. We have a big day tomorrow. We sleep early.
This is the big day. Camille successfully wrangles the poets before 8am, into minibuses and to Parc De Martissant, in the Martissant Quartier. It’s a long, hot, packed drive – Saturday morning traffic hornet-buzzed – up to the hills above the city. Suddenly there are trees, wide and quiet streets.
The Parc is beautiful. Peaceful and lush. Rebuilt as a tranquil place for the local community (they have problems with gangs, particularly for the children) after the earthquake. There is a library, vegetable gardens, outdoor stone pods – les oeufs D’Aida – separated by running water, over tiled waterways. An exhibition of dancer Katherine Dunham. A staff of over 70, funded by, among others, the Haitian Government, the George Soros Foundation, the EU. We wander, cooing at plants, pathways, tiny green quick lizards. We have an hour or so before the children arrive for the performances.
On the top of the hill, a tree hung with mirrored faces (the work of Pascale Monin, director of the Centre D’art). I’d been loitering behind and come up to find the female poets arranged in the branches. It’s something magical.
After, a circle is formed, hands held. Sharings from Josephine, Natasha, Jean Sioui, Rita. A giving of thanks to Haiti. It’s powerful.
Bibliotheque. Performance for les jeunes with Virginia, Jean Sioui, Louis Karl and Jonathan. Jonathan and I have worked on a translation into French of one of my pieces, the one that I think might translate, have some meaning, here – ‘Are the Kids Alright?’. We perform together, weaving the French and English. It’s good. He meets me halfway.
Then the day becomes very long, more and more and more kids arriving. Another performance, to younger children, which does not translate. They’re too young, and it’s just some random person talking to them in a different language. Jonathan appears and we perform again, a rescue of sorts that redeems it. But it’s getting hot. I wander out to the gardens, all poets pressed into service. They’re here. We’re here. So, it’ll happen.
Back to the hotel. We head to the supermarket, buy cheese, crackers, mangoes, hot sauce. A picnic on Maryan’s balcony with Bella, Jonathan. We’ve discussed the best vegetables to buy, shrink wrapped, in the supermarket. A penknife comes in handy. Tonight, there is to be a grand finale at FOKAL, although exact details are a little hazy. Moe and Jonathan go on ahead to set up, plan the evening.
I swim a little with Bella, then wait with the others at the hotel restaurant. We wait, and wait. No one seems quite clear what’s going on.
Eventually, to FOKAL. And it is amazing. A packed audience of Haitians, musicians, a series of young Haitian slam poets who leave my heart jumping out of my chest. Moe ‘CLICK CLACK POW WOW’ and Jonathan keep things running, performances from Natasha and Marie Andree, Louis-Karl, Guy. Jonathan and I perform ‘Kids’ for the third time that day. A whooping, wild audience, finishing with drums, dancing, shouts through the crowd.
Later that night, we eat, dance, and walk back through the warm streets of Port-Au-Prince after midnight.
There is little time. Too little. My flight at 2pm, Miami, Heathrow, Edinburgh. Retrace steps. The rest will stay in Port-au-Prince tonight, fly back to Montreal the following day. We have been invited to brunch at the house of Yanick Lahens. My case packed, both lighter and heavier than before. I feel warm, calm, a little stunned. I rub the heat deeper into my skin, asking it to stay with me. It does.
My case tucked under the seats of the minibus. We go up through the hills and find another side of the city: the suburbs. The houses here are bigger, still with high walls and barbed wire but with a more relaxed air. The streets are wider, less busy. There are shopfronts. Yanick’s bungalow is serene, elegant, full of art and tiles and light.
I say my goodbyes, quietly, to each person. The hugs are fierce.
The airport. The journey through Port-au-Prince passes more quickly than I remembered. And then I leave.
Josephine Bacon, Natasha Kanape Fontaine and Naomi Fontaine will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 29th August in a joint event with Anna Crowe, Rachel McCrum and Jennifer Williams. This is part of a wider collaboration between the EIBF, the Scottish Poetry Library and the Maison De La Poesie in Montreal, which will see the three Scottish poets performing in Montreal in May 2016. More on the EIBF events here.
Les Nuits Amerindiennes is a festival celebrating First Nation literature, poetry and performance from Quebec and Canada, organised by the Montreal based publishing house Memoire d’encrier, and encompassing performances, readings, workshops, lecture, book launches and more. The 2015 festival in Port-au-Prince was the first in what is hoped to be a global series of Les Nuits Amerindiennes.