Columns by Elizabeth Spires

You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country

1.29.10

A few years ago, I reviewed the children’s classic Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti, written by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes in 1931. The Haiti presented in that book was a simple, lyrical place, in some ways almost paradisaical, and totally at odds with the terrible scenes of destruction and human suffering we are seeing in newspapers and on television broadcasts since the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, however, Haiti’s troubles in recent years, its political instability, social chaos, and poverty, made it an unlikely destination for most travelers.

This didn’t deter my husband, who began making regular trips to Haiti in 1995 to research a trilogy of historical novels (All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone That the Builder Refused) about the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. Since he is an intrepid, resourceful traveler, who recognizes little in the way of danger, I decided it would be pointless to worry about his safety until the day of one trip, when the Haitian Times landed on our doorstep in Baltimore running the bold headline “Kidnappers Run Amok.” Fortunately, his plane to Haiti had already taken off, which was a good thing, since I know that that particular story wouldn’t have stopped him from going. But my misgivings on that occasion spurred the poem “You Have Flown to the Dangerous Country.”

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Snail: The Story Behind the Poem

1.27.10

Elizabeth Bishop once described the writing of a poem as a “happy accident.” She knew that the image or event that triggers a poem is always unexpected. It can’t be planned or contrived, willed or wished for.

This has certainly been true for me. I remember how a long-ago trip to the town dump in Stonington, Maine—certainly not a beautiful or “poetic” place—inspired a poem of mine titled “The Woman on the Dump.” And, a few years later, how a visit to my daugher’s elementary school led to my writing “Snail.”

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