Did you know there was a poet laureate among your many neighbors? Indeed there is, and when telling the story of such an esteemed wordsmith, what better prose to use than his very own...
Lake Mary Life presents a Q&A with poet laureate and Heathrow resident Elie Fleurant
You came to the United States in 1969 from Haiti. Why did you immigrate, and what was it like to adapt to a different lifestyle and culture?
Back then, my town of Cap-Haïtien was a festive beachfront city on the Caribbean where young people were hypnotized by troubadours, poets vagabond, and its joie de vivre. I grew up in a big house always filled with joyous people and laughter.
I do not intend to leave you with the impression that my time in Haiti was an idyllic and serendipitous episode. I grew up during the Papa Doc Duvalier regime, known as one of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in modern history. My father was a businessman. We did not live in great abundance and opulence, but my dad was able to provide for our family. My father had qualms about Duvalier, but he kept it to himself. He was a man of few words, reticent in verbal expression but generous in kindness and affection, especially for his children.
As a young boy, about eight years old, I witnessed an execution in a public park. The victim was a close friend of my father. The Duvalier regime tried to silence and decimate all of his opponents. Up to present, I frequently have nightmares, which is why I abhor gun violence.
When I immigrated to the United States in 1969, I found the residue of a decade full of dreadful memories and social tumult. Needless to say, as a young man growing up in Haiti, I took happiness for granted. Once living in America, I had to learn how to be happy.
Your professional biography states you are a poet, philosopher, lecturer, inventor, and historian. What inspired your interests and who influenced you?
My early childhood not only had an effect on my writing, but it enhanced my creativity as an artist. Cap-Haïtien, the picturesque city where I grew up, was the birthplace of Toussaint Louverture, the precursor of the Haitian Revolution. The poet Oswald Durand, author of the famous song “Yellow Bird,” was also born and grew up in that magical and fascinating city. Growing up, I was raised in a home that was frequently visited by poets, musicians, painters, and politicians who influenced my life and who made me interested in writing poetry in my adolescence. One poet in particular, Henry-Claude Daniel, frequently visited my home, and he had a lot of influence on my writing. He wrote a poem criticizing the Duvalier regime for which he was incarcerated and murdered in his prison cell. I am a writer, inventor, songwriter, and composer, and I play several instruments. I give credit to my childhood influences for all these flairs.
Some of my favorite poets include Alfred de Musset, René Depestre, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson.
You have been awarded many literary prizes and honors. In 2018, you were recognized as a Poet Laureate in the Prix Naji Naman International Poet Competition in Paris. What does it mean to be a poet laureate?
The first title poet laureate was granted in England in the 17th century for poetic excellence. There are numerous poetry competitions in the world, but France is the place where poets and writers are honored and recognized with the utmost grandeur and respect. I am the recipient of at least six literary prizes and honors in France.
In June 2018, after participating in the Naji Naman poetry contest, I became the laureate among 2,000 participants from 60 countries. I represented Haiti in the contest.
Why did you decide to leave New York and moveto Heathrow?
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Three years ago, my wife Evelyne and I came to Lake Mary when we were thinking about relocating. Last year, we became increasingly exhausted living in New York for many reasons, including snowstorms and high taxes. So, last July, we decided to move to Heathrow. We love it here, thanks to Jeno Paulucci who was so thoughtful of building such a tropical paradise.