The Majestic Haitian Poet Michèle Voltaire Marcelin
All day I pondered how my interview would go after being embedded with visual art, videos, photos and poems. Some thoughts crept in during my run on the treadmill (after neglecting the gym for 3 weeks); while driving in the car for a few errands to get a latte, picking up my dry cleaning and household items, and layering endless coats of mascara on my lashes—my routine for ladies night out.
Then I instantly found myself sharing the same sentiment of Dr. Maya Angelou on Oprah Radio, when Maya said, “Her poetry is wonderful and it lifts me up - I am longing to speak to Michèle Voltaire Marcelin.”
It is a rare occurrence when you meet someone that instantly engages you by the touch of their voice and keeps you hanging onto their every word. Almost immediately at the beginning of our conversation, I found myself arrested by the lovely Michèle Voltaire Marcelin; and after spending the weekend immersed in her banquet of works as a poet, painter, spoken word performer and author, I was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t known this phenomenal woman sooner. Lounging on my chaise and cradled in my pillows, I anxiously anticipated this moment. I dial, the phone rang, and Michèle answered: “Hello Pascha.”
Pascha’s Disclaimer: No mere words can attempt to concoct what would seemingly put together the wonders of Michèle.
Intriguingly through written word and visual art, this creative artist is profoundly honored to share with others her work about her native homeland of Haiti concerning its various triumphs and difficulties. This Haitian born and raised marvel is a multi-dimensional and multi-talented work of art herself that has also lived in Chile and now resides in New York. From a young age, Michèle has used poetry as a muse, studying some of the French poets. She speaks and writes fluently French, English, Haitian Creole and Spanish. Michèle’s career in writing includes her first novel “La Désenchantée” which was published in 2006, and 2 other books of poetry and style "Lost and Found", and "Amours et Bagatelles" (recently translated in Spanish).
Honestly, I would love to go on and on about her reveled work and talent as an awe-inspiring artist, but I prefer to disclose the pleasure I had during our brief conversation instead. Michèle is truly a gem full of nuggets and I liken her to the different hues of ruby, jade, topaz, emerald, turquoise, amethyst, sapphire and jasper. These precious gemstones are what you can easily identify in her work. If you ever have the opportunity to be graced by one of her performances, you will understand why. Although I have not seen her in a live performance (yet), I have learned to understand her nature as an artist by reviewing portions of her work and speaking with her through the distinguished explanation of choice words she used.
Michèle’s inspiration is from her interaction with people. She says, “I view it in a serendipitous way to discover how wonderful life is.” Most of her work revolves primarily around love, relationships and how people deal with emotions. Sharing an example of watching people run to seek shelter when it rains, she states, “When it rains in Haiti, the people living in tent cities have no escape from the rain, these are the things that inspire me - it just depends on what strikes you; we are recorders.” Her artistic work as a painter is defined along the same lines and simply depends on how she wants to depict her work. Michèle says, “In whatever I do, I work at it feverishly.” Are you starting to get the sense of what I mean by the variety of precious gemstones? This is the type of artist that commands attention through solidified work from a true passion.
The Education of a Poetess
Michèle has an innate love of poetry that she wants to share with everyone. “Most poetry is considered dull to sit through and it is uneasy for a person if they are being read to,” she says. Truthfully, I must admit I am one of those individuals that find some poetry difficult to sit through reading, but as long as it has the right delivery, I am easily attentive and amused. Michèle’s poetry definitely leaves something to be desired by distinctively writing about things I can identify.
She graciously sent me a copy of her book “Lost and Found” and with a grin ear to ear, I was nearly skipping back up the sidewalk to my door after receiving the package in the mail. I instantly ripped open the envelope ready to devour the pages of her work. On these printed pages, you experience the charismatic way she describes in simple stanzas: the fruit of love gained and lost, freedom, anguish, and tenacity between lovers, happiness and life. It was hard for me to select only a few from the list of 74 poems in her book, but some notable (in my own interpretation) to me were Sweet Mimi Tango (the harness of men’s character), Masquerade (a demonstrative expression of heartbreak), A Lying Shame (game on love/lust) and Honest Mistake (gestures a love satire).
Poetry has long been used for songs and storytelling. She shares that when someone leaves her performance she wants them to have a love of poetry because poetry roots from rhythm, emotion and music. After having this experience to speak with Michèle my perception of poetry has forever changed.
One question that I typically ask an artist is if they have any challenges to overcome and how have they been able to overcome those blocks creatively? Michèle rephrases with her own definition in her poised voice, “we have many outlets of creativity and people quickly define their creativity as one dimensional,” then she asks me a question – “Pascha, do you enjoy cooking?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” She explains, “This is one aspect of your creativity, whenever you prepare a meal you add different seasonings or spices to enhance the flavors with perfumes and you add a new twist sometimes. We all have many facets of creativity not just one or two things.” After her statement I was lost in my own thoughts about how I enjoy cooking for my family because I feel preparing a meal is an expressive part of me and I do not share that with just anyone. Michèle also shared the same sentiment that she enjoys cooking for those she loves and that love goes into what you’re cooking. Absolutely!
At the core of our conversation Michèle reveals how even when things are not expressed through her work at any given moment, there are things brewing inside that need to be worked on or produced. Ideally being the free spirit that she is (candidly referring to herself as a rebel,) Michèle does not understand when people put anxieties or pressures on themselves from certain blocks because to her those challenges do not exist. She reflects “that life has an ‘ebb and flow’ that’s not controlled and everything has a time to mature or else if it’s premature then it’s not the proper time.” She continues, “Think in terms of a baby’s gestation period: If it comes before the 9 months, there is certain care the baby may need depending on how soon it was delivered otherwise at full term pregnancy the baby is considered mature.”
Michèle’s Art of Happiness
Recognizably having an interview on what marked a touching day in world history, on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2011, Michèle respectfully says, “all dates have significance or meaning in one way or another, on this date September 11, 1973, also reminds me when there was a Democratic upheaval that led to me having to leave Chile and move to the U.S.” I fully appreciate her perspective on how all dates in our life have some type of meaning that is expressive in our lifetime.
One poignant declaration I noticed throughout all of Michèle’s photos was her beaming smile. You can tell by just glimpsing at her photos (unfortunately I couldn’t see her in person) that there is a genuine happiness surrounded
by loving people in her life. She commented that some people even ask her “how can they grasp this same happiness she has in life?” Michèle renders in an effortless tone, “Everyone is on a quest to be content and happiness is a definite quest; you ask yourself, ‘Where am I? – Who am I?’ There are so many things to enjoy in life from the beauty we are surrounded with and we can celebrate the different arts by a walk through the park, visiting a library or going to a museum.” She continues, “people tend to forget that other cultures and countries have experienced so much suffering due to war, political strife or natural disasters, so let’s not only focus on the negative - but the blessings.”
Michèle is all about living in the moment and remarks, “things don’t make me happy, my connections with people are fulfilling to me.” I mentioned how I loved the photo she had with Melanie Charles and Pauline Jean (my other beautiful sisters) where they’re all embraced, just aglow with cheers, and she illustrates, “that was an impromptu picture after a show, and it was inspired by that ‘moment in time’ which conveys that kindness of others is most needed and I can mark that period with them.”
Towards the end of my fascinating interview with Michèle, she shares with me a poem to depict her:
“If you meet a woman who seems to sail her life with strength
and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been
a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead."
— Sena Jeter Naslund
Michèle shared with me some other poems she relishes through the works of others and I thought it was only practical to also share with you!
"I have come here to live out loud." Emile Zola
“It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it." - Mae West
For the painter: “Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or
the painter?” - Pablo Picasso
Fellini writes - it must be about me since I try to be wholly alive: “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.” - Federico Fellini
Lastly, a verse from the great Haitian poet Anthony Phelps: "Of what color is the new season if not of hope?" I would like to end on hope because as I have been told "Poetry is the hand that stops stars from falling" and the poet invokes the angels of the full moon when hope is lacking on earth.
However, for me, one of her own renderings from her book, “Lost and Found” made me revere our ‘moment in time’ and think of Michèle. It is titled: “I Am Woman”
Who owns my laughter
Who owns me
I say no one
A joyousness of bells
Resounds deep inside me
Innumerable seas rise in me
Wondrous and fierce
My lavishness of spirit
I rejoice in the world
I truly enjoyed them all and only hope that you can gain the same experience with your own personal copy. Thanks again Michèle for your wonderful gift and you have gained another student in life.
Michèle is currently working on compiling the texts she’s written since the earthquake in Haiti, rendering that catastrophe into a volume of prose and poetry. You can purchase her books on www.amazon.com and visit her website for upcoming events at www.lidous.net.
Contributed by – Pascha Black, exclusively for Red Keyz Media