A clinched fist speaks

Swampscott resident and poet Enzo Silon Surin said he  finds inspiration for his writing everywhere. 

“The right music, the right light, the right conversation, everything inspires me and I think it’s because I’m always looking for what things mean and why things happen, the way that they happen and so because of that I feel like the entire world is open, for me as a point of inspiration,” Silon Surin said. 

Silon Surin has always been a writer. He initially started out with script writing but one rainy day in junior high school while looking out of the window, something changed. 

That was the day he became a poet. He was feeling sad that day. Teenagers, he said, have “this mood thing” that consumes them and he was “predestined for the dramatic.” 

“So I was wallowing and I look outside and there was this tree right outside the window and the rainwater was cascading on the side of the tree in a subtle, unusual way,” Silon Surin said. 

It was almost as if the tree was crying, he said.

“So I was like, ‘can trees get sad? Is a tree crying because it’s sad?’ and at that point, I knew I had switched from something, I didn’t know what it was, but then I knew something was different when the next question came, I was like, ‘I wonder if the tree is crying because it’s sad or it knows that I’m sad, but I can’t cry my own tears,’” Silon Surin said. 

There were a lot of things he felt inside but couldn’t say, he said. “That day, that tree was expressing what I was feeling and I kind of tucked that away but I wrote it down,” he said. 

He showed his teacher what he wrote and she asked him if he knew anything about poetry. He’s been a poet ever since. 

All these years later, Silon Surin has been awarded for his poetry. He won the 2021 Massachusetts Book Award from the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which held its official ceremony for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 winners on Jan. 18, for his poetry book “When My Body Was a Clinched Fist.” 

The book is about his experience growing up in Queens, New York in the late 80s.

“It’s … really coming of age at a time where the social scene was drugs, some violence, police brutality, that so forth, and there was a tough time, late 80s, early 90s, and trying to come of age in that environment,” he said. 

Having been born in Haiti, it “added some weight to it,” he said. “I think it allowed me to have some sort of perspective as well, that I was able to see things from, from the outside in,” Silon Surin said. 

“At some point, I was just like, ‘how do I tell this story?’” 

Receiving the award is not something he was expecting but was still holding out hope for.

“I got the email and I kind of screamed … because in a lot of ways, it means a lot. Having gone to the ceremonies before and being in Massachusetts, I know how much this award means. So I was just like, wow, and I screamed, and then my two boys came running into the room, and they screamed with me and started to jump up and down,” he said. 

While he actually received the award a few years ago, having the in person ceremony with his fellow authors and winners was “wonderful,” he said. Silon Surin’s next poetry book will be coming out in May and is titled “American Scapegoat” which “picks up where ‘When My Body Was a Clinched Fist’ left off.”

“You have this kid that survives this environment. He grows up to be a father and it’s like ‘okay, I made it out,’ but then he quickly realizes that being black and male, puts him in a specific category. And so now he has to grapple with the world as an adult, and to feel like, ‘but I made it through, no, but my life is still at risk.’” Silon Surin said.

He wrote about people like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“It’s really about America, not really coming to terms with its own history and I said as a result, the democracy of this country is not in touch with its humanity … I said we need to take a look at what’s really happening,” Silon Surin said. 

A lot of research went into writing this book, he said. The research into those injustices was more “heartbreaking” than he thought it would be and questioned how he could write this story while “my own heart is breaking.” 

He realized he had to get past that in order to get the truth out.

“American scapegoat is really the American story, and you never really know what the scapegoat is. One time, it’s a Black man and other times it’s the white farmer from Iowa, or somebody growing up in rural Alabama dealing with the opioid epidemic. So in a lot of ways, it’s about shifting our lenses to say, we’re pinned against each other but we should really be united together,” Silon Surin said.