August 27, 2014
Davertige [Villard Denis]
Davertige [Davertige Villard Denis] [Haiti]
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on December 2, 1940 the poet and artist Davertige (born Davertige Villard Denis) grew up on his parent's plantation, part of the area of the city that is called Laforesterie near downtown Port-au-Prince. His mother, Jeanne Fequiere, originally from Cavaillon, convinces her son that they were of born of bourgeoisie origins, emotions that continued into his adulthood when he recalls having lived as a child in a castle.
Early in his youth, Davertige learned French through the lessons of an elderly Guadeloupian woman, affectionately known as Grandma Alice, who lived with his family.
At five, the young boy fell from an exterior staircase of the family home, and was henceforward described by his family as a child of “delicate health.” A year later, he began at a private elementary school, Colbert Bonhomme.
At nine the child began to take interest in drawing and other visual arts, and was encouraged by his family, as long as these interests did not interfere with his studies. Unable to play with his classmates, Davertige read French literary texts from the Middle Ages through the French Revolution, familiarizing himself with the works of Villon, Du Bellay, and other major authors.
At twelve, although attending secondary school at Simon Bolivar, the young boy enrolled in the National Center of Ceramic Education, where he worked with painter and ceramist Tiga, gradually growing aware of his family myths.
In 1954 Davertige began to frequent the Foyer of Visual Arts, working in an apprenticeship, under Dieudonne Cedor, and studying the book The Life of Van Gough he discovered in the Foyer’s library.
By age 17 Davertige began to write his first poems and, joining the Communist party, he actively participated in the student struggle. In 1958 he showed his first art works at the National Society of Dramatic Art, presenting the painting, “Christ negre.”
In 1959 he published his first poems under the pseudonym of Davertige, while retaining his name Villard Denis for his art. During this period he also met poet Roland Morisseau, the two exchanging poems, and, soon after, he became friends with Rene Philoctète, following a meeting of the literary group Samba. With poets Serge Legagneur, Anthony Phelps, and August Thénor, Davertige, Morrisseau and Philoctète, the poets became associated with a new movement titled Literary Haiti.
A year later Davertige bought the library of painter Jacques Gabriel, a collection of books that once belonged to the intellectual painter Roland Dorcely, which included books by Maurice Nadeau, Michel Leiris, and Magloire Saint-Aude, titles that would further influence the Literary Haiti group.
After the arrest of his student friend Jacques Duvieulla, Davertige took refuge at the home of a washerwoman, a friend of his mentor Cedor, in the Port-au-Prince suburbs. It was there that he composed his first collection of poems, Idem, from September 1960 to February 1961. The book was published in Haiti in 1962 by L’Imprimerie Theodor, with a preface by Serge Legagneur in the Literary Haiti collection. In order to pay for its publication, the poet sold his jeep, and destroyed a large part of the work to bring down the number of its pages.
During the same years, Davertige lived off the painter part of his being, Villard Denis, working with the gallerist Issa El Saleh. And in the year of his poetry publication, he sold his paintings books he selected from the bookstore named Select and frequented another bookstore, Le Pleiade.
In 1962, the literary critic Maurice Lub, vacationing in Paris, shared the works of poets associated with Literary Haiti, handing a copy of Idem to French poet Alain Bosquet. Bosquet proclaimed the genius of the author the following year in Le Monde. The same year, Soviet critic Eugénie Galpérina, cited the Haiti Literary poets, by omitted Davertige’s name. In order to rectify the omission, René Philoctète wrote praised Idem in an article in revue Semences.
Perceiving that he needed what he described as “oxygen,” Davertige left Haiti to travel to New York for a year, working in the city at Art d’Haiti. The same year, through a mutual friend, the poet met Alain Bosquet at Carnegie Hall, developing a friendship which led the French poet to writer another essay on Idem for the magazine Combat and to write a preface for the book which was re-released in France.
In October 1965, Davertige moved to Paris, living in a small hotel in the Latin Quarter, spending a great deal of time with poets Bosquet, Pierre Emmanuel, and André Laude. In 1967 the poet settled with Chantal, a woman he had met through his politically leftist activities. The couple had a daughter, Eleonore in 1968.
Although Davertige continued to meet regularly with French and fellow-Haitian writers, from Gary King to Gerard Aubourg, Danien Arty, and Jean-Claude O’Garo, the poet soon begins to fall into a depression, feeling that he has lost everything in Europe.
During a trip to China in 1968, the poet began to write a novel of more than 2000 hand-written pages, which he later burned.
Meeting editor of the Montreal publishing house, Nouvell Opitque, Herard Jadotte, Davertige was invited to by Jadotte to come live in that Canadian city. Breaking up with Chantal, Davertige decided to take the editor up on his offer. From 1976-2002, he withdrew from both his personas, “The darkness: life realizes itself. No more Villard Denis. Davertige is in the past. His representative Villard Denis is dead,” he summarizes.
It was not until 1987 that he returned to Haiti, living for six months with Philoctète, while he returned to painting, and showing in Port-au-Prince during the Meeting of Latin-American ministers.
In 2003, rewriting most the poems from Idem, he redesigned and reprinted the book in Montreal. Davertige died in Montreal on July 25th, 2004.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Idem (Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Impr. Théodore, 1962 / Montréal: Nouvelle Optique, 1983, 2003)
Omabarigore the town I created for you
Taking the sea in my arms
And the landscape around my head
All the plants are sated and hold their springtime
On their stems that the winds stifle
In the middle of forests that resonate from our senses
Awakened trees that know our secrets
All the doors open with the force of your dreams
Each musician has your senses for an instrument
And the night a necklace around the dance
For we make fast thunderstorms
To the arms of refuse
The sorrow falls like the walls of Jericho
The doors open only with the force of your love
Omabarigore where rings
All the clocks of love and life
The map shines like this face that I love
Two mirrors collect the tears of the past
And the people of dawn besiege our sight