A Schoolroom in Haiti
In Haiti, Port-au-Prince, a man walked up and down the school hallways
carrying a bull whip.
Oh, he never uses it, the school administrator said. Its purpose is only to
instill good discipline in the students.
They were from fourteen to seventeen years old,
Boys in white shirts and white short pants. They stood up
And wouldn’t sit down till the Minister of Education
Beckoned them to do so.
They concentrated very hard on the ideas they were being given for writing
After the officials left, they started writing their poems in Creole.
After four or five days they were asking to come forward and sing to the
rest of the class these Creole poems. They did so.
This experiment was never repeated. The government became even more
One poem begins “B is for black, Bettina, a negress whom I dote on.”
The assignment was a poem about the colors of the vowels or the
consonants in the manner of Rimbaud.
What has happened to those poems? What has become of those students?
I have the poems in New York. In Haiti I had asked to teach ten-year-olds
but I had been told
They won’t be able to write well enough. The reason was the didn’t know
Not well enough to be able to write poetry. Their native language was
The language they spoke at home, but at the Lycée Toussaint L’Ouverture
And every other school, the instruction was in French.
They were stuck behind the French language. It loomed over them a wall
Blocked out everything:
Blocked mathematics, blocked science, blocked history, blocked literature
While Creole stayed back with them, cooking up poetry
But that was all. For the most part, except for a few rich boys
Who could afford to study French in the afternoonsThey were left fatally behind.