Daily Video

January 6, 2011

Kwame Dawes Tells Haitian Stories through Poetry, Reporting

[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript here.]

Nearly one year to the day since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake forever changed the lives of Haitians; the country continues to suffer from its lasting effects. In that time, writer and poet Kwame Dawes has traveled to Haiti on four occasions to document people’s experiences, and turn the subject matter into poetry. Videos and photography accompany the prose which Dawes says brings about a certain “intimacy” with the people.

“When I was going to Haiti, the idea was really to report, to find out what was happening,” said Dawes. “But I knew that, somehow, I would have to find ways to respond to it in poetry. And that’s what happened.”

Dawes’ work was sponsored by the Pulitzer Center and given the green light based off prior work he had done for them on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. When he first arrived in Haiti, Dawes describes how he was initially struck by the massive devastation and mental trauma the earthquake had caused. Amid all the devastation, Dawes was able to find stories, write about the people and eventually create poems bases off the experiences.

“A good narrative tells me there’s a poem here or there’s an image that is going to emerge out of it,” reveals Dawes. “I would listen to people’s stories and walk away. I would be thinking about it, and an image would come back to me, and I will find a way to turn that into poetry.”

One such poem is “Mothers of Mothers,” a piece that captures the strength of Haitian women.

This video is collaboration between the NewsHour, USA Today and The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that explores the crisis in Haiti one year after the earthquake.

Quotes

“I write poems as a way to process and to work through experiences. And it also gives us an intimacy in the relationship with people.” –Kwame Dawes

“I cannot avoid a good story. At night, I would be thinking about it, and maybe an image would come back to me, and I will find a way to turn that into poetry.” –Kwame Dawes

Warm Up Questions

1. Where is Haiti?

2. What is poetry?

3. What is the difference between poetry and journalism?

Discussion Questions

1. How do you think poetry differs from a standard news story when telling a persons life experience?

2. What does Dawes mean when he says poetry gives readers a certain sense of “intimacy” in relation to the people and their stories?

3. Have you ever gone through something in your life and expressed it through writing? Was it in the form of poetry, an essay, etc.

Additional Resources

Read video transcript

Video Dispatch: Haiti, a Year Later

Haiti Election Protests Grow, Airport Closes

Haiti’s Election Turmoil Throws Results Into Question

Download this Video

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