Translation: Five Poems by Laura Liuzzi

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Laura Liuzzi

Laura Liuzzi was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1985. Her first book of poetry, Calcanhar (Heel, 7Letras), was published in 2010. In 2014 she published Desalinho (Disalignment) with Cosac Naify. In June of this year, she released the pamphlet Coisas (Things) with the publisher 7Letras at FLIP, Brazil’s most prestigious literary festival in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro state.

The poems I have translated here are from her two most recent books, except for “lessons”, which, given how contemporary it is, is uncollected.

lessons

it won’t scare us if there’s nothing
left over, on our tables, of
our hairlines, of our certainties.

weeks have gone by now in panic
of going back to what was one day
of going back to what might be one day.

we will die together but we have
the strange capacity to survive
and on we go, worse or better.
death is slow, collective and absurd.

a bus goes by with no known destination
obedient to the yellow stripe on the asphalt.
automatic heads, hands and legs
inside the bus that know, despite of

and perhaps out of stubbornness, how to walk.
we walk over uncertainty’s cold
hard ground. some of us even whistle.

another bus goes by and doesn’t stop
– transport is blind and has no
heart.

two bodies can never touch. between them
there will always be a vacuum – the only lesson
learnt sleeping through chemistry classes.

then a touch, an embrace, a kiss, a scratch?

I grab you, embrace you, kiss you, scratch you.
I run you down with my forwardness.
it’s death, but this about how to survive
and surviving.

(Uncollected)

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Transatlantic, Fraternal: Matilde Campilho’s “Jóquei”

joqueiIt is rare to find the words “best-selling” and “poetry” inhabiting the same sentence—even in Brazil, “a country where poets are taken seriously” according to the New York Times. So great was this deviation from the script, that at the launch of Matilde Campilho’s first collection Jóquei last week in Rio, talk among readers, the moderator was of that thing that happened—whisper it, a poetry book was number 1 in sales at the Flip, Brazil’s biggest literary festival. Whether the New York Times is right, but anyway, it’s worth repeating: Matilde Campilho’s Jóquei was the best-selling book at Flip.

Campilho is Portuguese, but with a strong connection to Rio de Janeiro—she lived here in between 2010 and 2013, she began writing here, she was surrounded by local poets at the mic. I know next to nothing about contemporary Portuguese writing (the connection between Portuguese and Brazilian letters is not as straight-forward as it might seem from outside the Lusosphere—the publishers are different like in English or Spanish, there are spelling differences perhaps more extreme than English, bookshops divide their shelves between Brazilian and international fiction and poetry…), but her work feels quite Brazilian, or at least cured in Brazil. This is for more than the geographical location of many of the poems: there is a freshness and lightness of touch, strong both in the prose poems and the short-lined unpunctuated free verse, that comes partly from lines or sentences are often equal to breath or thought.

The book has two overt artes poeticae, which are both real defences of poetry as an art form. From the start of the first, ‘Prince in the Rose Garden’, it comes at the reader with demands: “Listen here / this is a poem / it doesn’t talk about love / it doesn’t talk about blue / scarves…” (my translations). This is poetry that knows what it wants and isn’t afraid to ask. And what does poetry want? Contradictory things. The second poem, ‘Extinct Principality’ begins: “This is a poem / it talks about love / or fear of love / It talks about death / or the end of the amalgam / face voice soul and scent / that is death / This is a poem / be afraid”. I don’t like being bossed about, but there’s something so enjoyable being told what to do by these poems.

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Brazilian Baroque: Congonhas

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  1. In the late 17th century, the centre of gravity of colonial Brazil briefly shifted from the slave-based agriculture of the coast to the veins of gold of the interior. This area is now the state of Minas Gerais, which means “General Mines”. They still are.
  2. On the road north from Congonhas to Belo Horizonte, the December rain had painted the highway red. Enormous trucks that had once been yellows, greys and blues powered up hills and freewheeled down them. We passed a crest on the hill and the heart of country was open in front of us. The green was gone. Red earth was all there is. Red ore is all there is. Once the strips were exhausted, the pasture would probably be replaced. Read more of this post

Langscape

My [redacted] is enough for business transactions, for humour: I say what the language wants, not what I want. Her laughter. I am the victim of my small vocabulary.

Homo faber, Max Frisch

Anyone who knows me will know I speak more than a couple of languages. Living as a foreigner in Brazil, this comes up most days and it often doesn’t take long for someone to ask me how it is I speak Portuguese “so well”. It’s a mystery to me, as much as to them[1]. This post might sound from a boastful enumerator, but I hope it doesn’t: I’m far more an embarrassed tallier.

Language is a landscape—and each one is different.

Mountains upon mountains  (Jardín, Colombia)

Mountains upon mountains
(Jardín, Colombia)

There’s one I used to speak, can no longer understand, that’s like a faded winter leaf: I can remember words, no meanings, but the intricate mathematical grammar hangs in its skeletal lace. Another sits in a jar of formaldehyde.

Another one, Russian, I worked in once and read in sometimes, but never without a dictionary for half the words. It feels like a misty hillside with a plain below where the slow-blown air sometimes clears and sometimes closes in. Or perhaps it’s like that scene towards the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, staring out over a snowy Breughelian vista.

The ones I feel I speak best, the irony and minor keys of German or arid, intricate, yet lush Spanish, are so much topographical, like a Caspar David Friedrich painting or the early sun over the Colombian cordillera, where ridge upon green ridge stretches to the horizon with the regularity and crunch of collapsing Toblerones.

Portuguese is different: I have a compass and a car, I am a navigator and have travelled far, but I know I’m on a wide savannah, where half my made-good turns were flukes.

Perhaps it’s familiarity and experience, perhaps it’s the mind-bending visions that come from literature, perhaps I have a synesthetic perception of these things. Or maybe it’s the range of lived emotion that spreads these maps of altitude: the most important relationships of my life (family, friends, lovers, partners) have been in English, German, Spanish. These are the languages that have made me ecstatic, made me cry. Will the same happen with Portuguese? Perhaps, or maybe it will always be a language on the flatlands, where words start to fade as soon as they’re touched and turn into gabbling shadows that sound, at a distance, like English, German or Spanish.


[1] The biggest mystery of all is how some people hear an accent from Portugal, where I’ve not been for 15 years and where I’ve never spoken Portuguese.

The cordillera(Somewhere over Paisalandia)

The cordillera
(Somewhere over Paisalandia)

Pink-Blossom Tree

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Botany, along with countless other disciplines, is not my strong point, so for the purposes of this blog, I’ll be calling this unidentified tree Pink-Blossom Tree. Although I have half an idea it’s something called an ipê, it could equally be something as beautiful as it is mundane, like a cherry that springs into life as the Tropic of Capricorn slouches out of “winter” and turns the heat up to scorchio.

I use those inverted commas around winter, not because there isn’t a reason, but because there is. In the popular imagination, Brazil has the perfect climate, but over the couple of years I’ve been here, I’ve come to realize the climate is pretty much like it is in most places: either too hot or too cold—but mostly more of the latter. Except, that is, when it gets cold.

Hardier Europeans might scoff from their heated apartments, but when the temperature dips below 15ºC, I slip underneath the eiderdown that one Brazilian airline was happy enough for me to pop into my suitcase for twice the price of the suitcase. But then again, twice the price of the suitcase is just a fraction of the price you’d pay for it here. So when the temperature’s below 15ºC, as they did at the end of July, there you’ll find me, shivering, and looking at photos of cities in the south of Brazil and wondering if snow ploughs were part of the World Cup budget.

But now that’s all behind us, we can concentrate on the zenith-bound sun that is schedule to arrive something overhead right around Christmas. But in the meantime we can concentrate on the beauty of a blossom fest that I would like to say covers the Marvellous City. Only that it doesn’t.

Pink-Blossom Tree is only planted in places where one might be going at speed. One of these places is somewhere I run past, so I freely admit that particular speed is relative—to the temptation to stop. But the other place where I pass by these trees, the velocity feels close to terminal.

Seen from a speeding bus—and Rio’s buses have just two speeds: speeding and stopped, which covers a variety of circumstances including at bus stop, waiting for driver to come from pee break, in traffic jam, fallen off a viaduct, etc.[*]—Pink-Blossom Tree is just a flash of magenta somewhere over my left shoulder and a mental note to come back sometime soon, in sunlight, to take photos. The sunlight part is important, as when you leave work after sunset and are far too lazy to leave the apartment with camera and the dawn, the speeding bus is the only place you’re likely to see Pink-Blossom Tree—and it helps if you’re waiting for it.

So indeed, there I was this morning in a speeding bus, phone in hand and ready to go. And then Lady Luck smiled. Not a full-tooth smile, perhaps more of a sarky grin, but there it was: the traffic jam.


[*] Speeding also covers a number of sins, but more on that some other time.

Largo do Boticário

You cross water to get there. In a city that’s buried its rivers, like the Fleet or the Bièvre or some many others, there’s magic in a bridge over open water, the brook powering away down its valley and into a tunnel somewhere out of sight, where it will call the course of the roads downhill and down to the bay where it meets the sea.

The Largo do Boticário was the place of Rio’s first apothecary—the clue’s in the way that the syllables line up. There must be a good reason why it was here, far from the centre and shadowed by mountains—Christ-topped Corcovado on one side, another thread of the serra behind. To me it’s a mystery.

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Set back from the road and the tunnel, it’s a forgotten-looking corner of the city, where even the police car light flash apathetically, as the mountain peels away the pastel paint and claws back its territory. Read more of this post

Rainy Rio

By Rob Packer

British beachgoers look for holidays with “sun, sand and sea”; while Spanish speakers look for “sol, brisa y mar” (sun, breeze and sea). The reason for this should be clear enough for anyone who’s spent any part of the summer staring out over the yellow plains of Castile from Madrid desperately hoping for a breeze; or, on the other hand, to any unsuspecting visitor to Brighton expecting fun with a bucket and spade. I say this from experience: I was taken, unwarned, to Brighton when I was about five and have never forgiven the place for it.

I have no idea what the Portuguese rule of three for the beach is (if you do, please put it in the comments), but what do you do in a city famous for having sol, mar, breeze, sand and everything else, when it’s a rainy day in Rio? The tourist brochures might keep quiet about it, but Rio actually does have double the annual rainfall of somewhere like London. Thankfully this is quite often fast rain, rather than northern Europe’s leisurely drizzle, but cloudy days do come around with about the frequency of, oh, Brazilian public holidays: so much so, that they almost always coincide.

So what to do on a cloudy day in Rio? Some tell me that everyone goes to the mall (true); others that no one knows what to do, stick distraught heads under pillows and stay at home (no way to check); and the hardiest will still go to the beach (they do I’ve checked).

None of these options is really as good as going up into the mountains and seeing how beautiful they are under cloud.

This last weekend added another option: FLUPP, the Literary Festival of the UPPs—an offshoot of FLIP, the Paraty Literary Festival—that aimed to bring literature to Rio’s newly pacified comunidades. The views swept 270º from Corcovado to the airport in the north of the city, but the real action was inside the tents with writers and poets like Manuel Vilas (Spain), Patrícia Portela (Portugal), Kei Miller (Jamaica), Allan da Rosa and Ferreira Gullar (Brazil).

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