Bilingual poet and scholar Patrick Sylvain’s book-length collection of English/Haitian Creole poems — Unfinished Dreams / Rèv San Bout — from which the following sequence is drawn “investigates the unrealized personal and sociopolitical aspirations of Haitians, both at home and in the diaspora,” writes Sylvain. The motivating figure that limns and permeates these poetic reflections is the “unfinished.” Through it, Sylvain elaborates a range of historical, political, social, ecological, and formal poetic claims and wagers. The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) — an impertinent attack on global capital for which, Sylvain explains, the Haitian people continue to be punished — haunts this work, as a paradigmatic forbearer of all that remains to be done. Utilizing a wide array of formal constraints and poetic conceits gleaned from a variety of literary and cultural traditions, Sylvain is writing against enforced and encrusted ideas of prestige and class that obstinately attach to Haitian Creole as a language of aesthetic and intellectual production.
The following poems are interspersed with excerpts from Sylvain’s essay “Bilingual Existence and the Portals of Translation.” Listen to Sylvain reading his poems in both languages on the barricade/ramparts SoundCloud.
More selected poems from Unfinished Dreams / Rèv San Bout will appear in Barricade’s forthcoming Summer 2021 issue, where Sylvain will discuss his poetic engagement with historical and contemporary Haitian life.