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Filtering by Tag: Adele Gallogly

Believing in Poetry in Haiti - Part 2 of 2  

Adele Gallogly

 (Read Part 1)

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” —Edwidge Danticat

A group of Haitian men and women sit around tables in a classroom with small windows. Fans are whirring, cutting some thickness from the warm morning air. The instructor, Lunise, is teaching Chapter 4 of a literacy program in a language I do not know. She translates for me when she can, but her main focus is, as it should be, on her class. Despite the distance of my foreigner’s ear, I am grateful to be among these attentive literacy students for an hour. I make a note to try and use “we” and “our” when I write about this later.

We are learning in Creole. I have been told this is not the educational language of choice for most Haitians. Most of them would prefer to learn in French, since it is considered the language of the elite. But French would be an extra step for learners who already know word meanings and organize their thoughts in Creole. The incorporation of poetry helps make the familiar fresh. “Poetry makes Creole attractive and new for them again,” Lunise told me. I like that, a familiar language reborn through a literary form.

We learn new words to build our vocabulary, copying them out while watching the clock to time the exercise. We work through a fictional set of letters between two characters who are talking about what they have learnedhow each unit of rhythm is called a "foot" of poetry and how poetry is an expression of feelings. We copy out Psalm 23 and then paraphrase it. Some students share their phrasesand while the words have necessarily shifted, the sentiments hold. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” for example, becomes “I won’t be afraid, you won’t leave me behind.”

The language barrier makes it difficult for me to keep up at times. The student to my left gently taps his packet of worksheets with his finger to guide me to the right page. I smile and nod in thanks as I turn to where I am supposed to be.

The Psalm 23 phrase “dark valleys” fits with the topics of a writing exercise given as homework. Students are to write three sentences analyzing the cause and effect in these topics, which Lunise translates for me. Twop moun nan prizonovercrowding in prisons. Lapennsorrow or grief. Goudougoudoua nickname for the December 2010 earthquake that is onomatopoeic, since it mimics the sounds buildings made as the ground shook.

I do not have the chance to interview these students one on one; I’m scheduled to travel out to another area to meet with students in a beginner’s class. I would love to go home with samples of poetry they have written, but they are not at that stage in their literacy journey, not yet. I have faith in the work to come, though. Poetry is taking root.


As I travel through the tight, packed city streets to the next literary class site, I spot a man in a baseball cap and grey t-shirt. I read the yellow text over his chest, a phrase in English: "I am not perfect, just forgive".

Or does it say just forgiven?  Our car is beyond him before I can confirm. So even if I read his shirt in error, I will now remember the ending as a kind of plea or command: just forgive.


I am home and working on a web story about Haiti. I email Lunise to ask her about some of her favorite Haitian poets. It is still quite rare to find Haitian Creole poems translated into English, but I would love a taste of a work, however small. She sends me the poem “Testamen” (Testament) by Félix Morisseau-Leroy. It is a version that can be read online here, as posted by the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat.

I read the poem once and immediately over again, more slowly. Then I sit awhile with the short, lively work. 

A quick Google search reveals that Morisseau-Leroy was one of the first prominent writers of poetry and plays in Creole. He wrote during Papa Doc Duvalier’s autocratic regime, which was set on stopping free expression. He was nearly killed and eventually exiled. Literacy is particularly risky in tyranny.

The image of the man in the forgive t-shirt comes back to me. Forgiveness is risky, too. A forgiven person may fail us again. Reading and writing can follow this same tenuous track of comprehension found and lost.

As I remember the beginner students, Josette and Mirlaine (who I eventually wrote a story about), the phrase “nervous yet excited” comes to mind. These women fidgeted and grinned as they talked about using their new skills to find jobs that enable them to provide well for their families. Both spoke of one day reading scripture aloud in church. They are unsure yet trusting, learning lesson by lesson, and taking steps to build a healthier, more secure life.

Perhaps they, and the other Haitian students I encountered, will go on to write and even publish poetry of their own one day. Perhaps they will not. Regardless, I am heartened to know that people in their country celebrate this form's mysterious, muscular voice. Morisseau-Leroy’s poem and countless other literary works will be there for them to discover, along with the written language of the everyday.

I believe acts of forgiving have a witness which abides long after forgiveness has been given or received. Isn’t this similar to literacy, too? By writing and reading texts, we give them power and place beyond the time we know. Consider Edwidge Danticat's observations about a someday, somewhere, someone reader. There is legacy in the work of words, and these Haitian students are now a part of it.

Our literacy always outlives us. Books may puzzle us and imperfect creations may fall short of what we mean to say. Of course they do. But we are daring to read and create dangerously, anywaymaking small testaments that speak to what is greater than ourselves.

From Ache to Amen

Adele Gallogly

"Hallelujah score 1741" by George Frideric Handel 1685–1759 - Scanned from The Story of Handel's Messiah by Watkins Shaw, published by Novello & Co Ltd, London 1963. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons A few Decembers ago, I saw Handel’s acclaimed Messiah oratorio in concert for the first time. From our side balcony seats at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, my friends and I had an overhead view of the choir as well as the orchestra stage. We could only see the backs of the interchanging soloists, which worried me a little. Would the experience be lessened by this limited view? A few minutes into the show, however, I realized that we could see something that the coveted, pricier center section below could not: the face of the conductor.

This conductor was, in a word, animated. He waved his arms and wielded his baton with a wizard-like flourish to guide the skilled group of musicians. His face is what caught me, though. His features echoed the emotional tone of each movement—tight and serious in moments of lament, open and bright in moments of delight. He smiled during that famous chorus.

Anecdote has it that Handel’s own face was wet with tears after he wrote the Hallelujah chorus. His assistant came upon him crying at his desk and asked him: “What’s wrong?” To which Handel replied. “I thought I saw the face of God.”

After such a splendorous vision and satisfying creation, it is a wonder that Handel went on to write another act at all. Yet he did.

In Philip Yancey’s reflection on Messiah’s “bright and glistening theology," he recalls the various theories behind King George II standing during the Hallelujah Chorus at the oratorio’s London premiere. Some believe did so because he was emotionally moved. As Yancey points out, however, there are also those who suggest that the king in fact rose to his feet because he mistakenly believed the show was over. Apparently novices in the audience have been known to make the same error today.

“Who can blame them?” says Yancey. “After two hours of performance, the music seems to culminate in the rousing chorus. What more is needed?”

Handel had an entire act of “more” to add. A heavy act. This brilliant composer, this creative man of God, recognized that as heavenly as his chorus sounded, it was still a chorus of earth--a place where so much is wrong and so much is needed.

In what Yancey heralds as “a brilliant stroke,” the final act begins with words from a stricken Job. It seems a steep fall from ebullient Hallelujah to a story of such tragedy. But there is a brave hope in Job's persistence of belief. The Christ that Handel then dwells on is the Christ of Revelation 4-5—the slaughtered Lamb, the humble sufferer whose victory comes through surrender.

“The great God who became a baby, who became a lamb, who became a sacrifice—this God, who bore our stripes and died our death, this one alone is worthy,” says Yancey. “That is where Handel leaves us, with the chorus "Worthy Is the Lamb," followed by exultant amens.”

Messiah’s expansive view is shown in its refusal to skip over wounds and tears to get to exultations. There is anxiety. There is uncertainty. There is blood. Handel acknowledges that here, in this sin-wrung world, our cries to the Lamb do not always sound like Hallelujahs. Sometimes they sound like weeping, or groaning. Like…ache.

As Handel’s “bright and glistening theology” swirled around me live that first time, my enjoyment of the piece was rimmed with specific aches. Ache for Opa (grandfather), who passed away a few years earlier and used to see Messiah in concert with my Oma, year after year. Ache for a coworker who was, at that very moment, stricken with the pain, exhaustion, and delirium of leukemia. In years prior I heard him loudly singing along to Messiah in his office. That was to be his last Christmas; a month later he would pass away. I ached, too, with awareness of the painful arcs in so many people's lives—persecution, loneliness, war, depression, disaster. The list goes on. As does the ache in our world.

Handel’s Messiah is as honest in its agony as it is in its joy. Its chords anticipate a world restored without diminishing the woundedness of living in the not yet. This is its gift: a true vision of Emmanuel, a Lord who is not just visible to us, his children, but present with us. He rejoices with us and carries our sorrows. May we look closely, sing boldly, and listen well as we seek His face.

Blessing, and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.

Believing in Poetry in Haiti - Part 1 of 2

Adele Gallogly

IMG_4759 I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions and traumatic events that come with being alive. —Gregory Orr (as posted by Image Journal)

This quote comes up on my Facebook feed while I am straining for a wireless signal from a humid guesthouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am a few days into a work trip as a staff writer at a disaster relief and community development agency. Sweat gathers in my back. My eyes are dry from a full day in contact lenses I rarely wear. I have just finished a supper of spicy beef and beans over rice accompanied by bread and mango juice, both fresh.

I am safely accommodated here in this bustling metropolis, where honking cars and colorful tap tap crowd the narrow streets bordered by litter-clogged gutters. Here, where bright purple flowers spill out over barbed wire-topped gates and roadside vendors sell wares ranging from intricate handcrafted metal art to unlabeled pill bottles.

Safety and comfort have been rare commodities in Haiti. Just over twenty-one decades ago, this nation claimed independence after the first successful slave revolt in human history. Just over five years ago, a horrific shaking of the earth killed an estimated two hundred thousand people and reduced buildings in the city and countryside to rubble.

What might it mean to believe in poetry as “a way of surviving” here, in this place of concrete streets and mountain crests, poverty and creativity,  political corruption and revolution? As a visitor—a foreigner with a notepad and a fixed agenda—I cannot of course know completely. I can only glimpse and theorize and listen as I meet with project leaders and literacy students in my path.

In addition to learning about beginner literacy programs already underway, I’m also here to see a new program in its seminal stage. It is a post-alpha program giving those with basic reading and writing skills the chance to grow in their capacity to read and write and their love for these activities. These lessons focus heavily on the form of poetry. Students memorize poems and learn how devices such as rhythm, meter, metaphor, and rhyme give language its deep music. Eventually they work at their own creations.

Gregory Orr’s words of belief enter my tired mind with a fitting weight as I think of these learners perched on poetry’s earliest threshold. I’ve read Orr’s books, even heard him give a lecture. I know his personal story of a life marked by violence, addiction, civil disobedience, and a tragic shooting accident that claimed his brother’s life in childhood. He does not speak lightly of suffering or survival. He reminds me that poetry is a generative spark. A lifeline. A rush of breath, a new light. Pick your survival metaphorthey all click with some power here where daily life is a struggle for many.

These literacy classes are not about bringing poetry to Haiti. I bristle at that word, so often used in missions-speak about “bringing God” to a country or community. God is always there and everywhere, already. He is present. His Spirit is moving, working.

I believe it is the same with poetry. It is already present in this country, woven into its history and the new legacies made by those who have cause to speak heavy of both great affliction and great joy. Every country is a country of creators. Literacy is about naming and shaping what we, as creative people, read and make. Oh Lord, what a gift. Help me see it freshly in this place.


(Read Part 2 here)