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Paul Laraque (1920--2007) During the past generation, one of the finest poets writing in New York City went virtually unnoticed and barely known to the literary community there, and now that Paul Laraque has died, the world has lost an immense creative force.

His obscurity in New York was because he wrote in the French and Haitian languages.

He passed away on International Women's Day, most fittingly perhaps, because, among men, women never had a stronger advocate for their economic, social and cultural liberty.

He was marginalized as well because he was a Marxist and revolutionary in the best sense of those two words: a man of lyricism in poetry who also was an intellectual in the most constructive manner. He was among those who welcomed Andre Breton to Haiti in 1946, and though Laraque was influenced by Breton's surrealism, it was the lyrical affirmation of Paul Eluard -- the poet who was the heart of the soul of Paris during the Thirties and Forties -- that was Laraque's true lyrical heritage. He took the torch from Eluard, so to speak, and created a body of work that can be read as an everyday weapon of resistance against the forces of imperialism and corporate greed.

In the great revolutionary tradition of Haiti, like a Boukman drumming at the ears of those yearning for freedom from misery and oppression, Laraque sounded the depths of both voodoo and negritude in making his poems sing for the people of Haiti in their struggles to overthrow the Duvalier dictatorships -- both Papa Doc's and Baby Doc's.

In 1988 the San Francisco poet Rosemary Manno translated his Camourade from French. That book was composed of poems from Laraque's Les Armes Quotidiennes (Everyday Weapons), which was the first book of poems in the French language to be awarded the prestigious Casa de las Americas prize for poetry in Cuba, in 1979. It was published bilingually by Curbstone Press of Willimantic, CT. The following year, with the Haitian poet Boadiba, who is Paul's niece, I translated his Fistibal (Slingshot), which are his poems written in Haitian. It was published bilingually by Seaworthy Press of San Francisco.

Curbstone Press is now preparing a posthumous edition of his poems.

Laraque, who was for many years the Secretary General of the Association of Haitian Writers Abroad, lived in exile from his native Haiti, in Queens, New York. It is a tragic irony that this truly great lyrical poet--in a city that chests itself out as being the center of international communications--barely recognized the genius who was writing a body of work in its midst that is a poetic cornerstone for the future of revolutionary Haiti. Like Paul Robeson, of the African-American tradition, Laraque understood that the liberation of the Haitian masses was a key to the liberation of all peoples--Black, White and Latino -- in the Americas, and he lived for that liberation and has left us giant poetic steps on the path to it.

Viv Pol Larak! Viv Ayiti!

— Jack Hirschman, Poet Laureate of the City of San Francisco


when you're hungry and don't have food
you're not free
when you're a farmer and don't have land
you're not free
when you're a worker and live in misery
you're not free
when you're a mouth and can't speak
you're not free

freedom's our right to harvest wheat 
  we plant
our right to know how to read and write
our right to make poetry
and make love
till daybreak
the right to a life 
where everyone works and 
  everyone plays

— Pol Larak (Paul Laraque)
(Translated from Haitian by Jack Hirschman and Boadiba)

This article originated in the People's Tribune
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