Translation: At Our Feet. 49 Poets Respond to Ana Cristina Cesar

I am living hour by hour, with so much fear.
One day I won’t suffer — bit by bit I’ll stop suffering, I’ll go on safari.

— Ana Cristina Cesar

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I first came across Ana Cristina Cesar (1952-1983) years ago in a photo of a friend’s apartment with a pile of books of his to-read list. It was hard to avoid: the Brazilian edition is eye-catchingly fluorescent in pink and blue.
—Have you heard of her?
—No…
I’d almost certainly seen the influence of her poetry: she was included in the 1976 anthology that defined the so-called Marginal Poets and the poetry written in her short life certainly feels very present in Brazilian poetry today.
A nossos pés (At Our Feet, a play on her book A teus pés, At Your Feet) is written in response to her work and brings together poems by 47 Brazilian and two non-Brazilian poets. Six of them that I’ve translated here. Elsewhere Leonardo Gandolfi constructs a biography and bibliography based on the question “what if”, Heitor Ferraz Melo responds to her death, Carlos Augusto Lima takes a walk with her around Lagoa, Micheliny Verunschk seems to follow her style, Marília Garcia puts the lines of A teus pés in alphabetical order, Ricardo Aleixo samples her, my poem is based on my fascination with her outsider’s insight into student life at a university in the East of England.

ana
—    Tarso de Melo

among the poet’s wreckage, notebooks thrown on the fire
and half-finished translations (as if between one language and another
the poem had fought back), the neighbours are calling for your eviction

but don’t worry, Ana, bit by bit poetry detaches itself
from photos, from your eyes, breaks the hidden grille of your handwriting
comes back from its travels, resists the invitations at the last window

“poetry can’t wait”? yes, it can, years, maybe decades,
in the rayban silence, trapped in the family album, the loose strand
of a girl’s hair, a bridge in the landscape – but then it jitters

: it is already too much for the ear, it doesn’t fit inside the eye,
it slips from your fingers to return to the mass grave it lives off
– and escapes, without a word, a thread of blood on the gums


slow
—    Rita Isadora Pessoa

I swap hymen
for a he-man
like swapping
one phoneme

.                         for another

.                         my skin
.                         for another

.                         flower

written in the vicinity
.                         of natural catastrophes


Postcard
—    Ruy Proença

in my country there are palm trees. I don’t want to die without you and me spending a summer afternoon at the zoo, a winter afternoon at the planetarium. I leave behind thought and travel the whole world. people always think they’re Fernando Pessoa. or the opposite. I’m from an age when travel is departure. Pedra Sonora, Uruguay, Amsterdam, London, Ireland, Wales, Spain, the US, Paraguay, Maranhão, Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceará, Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Búzios, Brasília, Campos do Jordão, Rome, Paris, Santiago, São Paulo, Portsmouth and, above all, Rio and Niterói where I was born. this is my small world, my exile. my country is wherever I’m not. I live. I live pretending. I pretend to live. poetry is a lie. I don’t want to die before seeing previously unseen meteors kiss impotently. I don’t want to die without trying glasses for colour blindness. I don’t want to die before my therapy notebook is full. I don’t want to. and if I die before I’ll never see the moon close up. I outlive. I outpretend. it seems there’s a way out just here where I thought all roads ended. a way out of life. now you’re getting here, I don’t need to rob myself anymore.


misunderstanding
—    Júlia Studart

from this close you
seem a little
silly, vulgar
so I tell you
again:
.                         things die

but also it’s
that age where everything
begins, that
we break with
any misunderstanding

I already mistrusted
this bony nakedness

.                thinness

I repeat the line stolen
and crossed out on a
notepad,

.                                there is a love that takes holidays

I don’t have
any idea
how to excite
your body
today a cat
scratched me
and vanished
with the sole of
my left foot,
I woke up with an itch
on my hymen and no
wish to speak

now if everything
was no more than
a misunderstanding

.                                we can start another correspondence

if you really
insist, but I
won’t make any
guarantees, I make no
promises

.                                [death would be worse – I think,
.                                but it would be definitive]


a hummingbird bangs its head against the glass
—    Manoel Ricardo de Lima

someone screams in the middle of
the road – loud, so very loud. a
name. there’s fear in this. fear
when someone screams a name
so loud in the middle of the road. or
laziness when they write
a name down as acronym, number,
logo or favour. and vomit: a kind of
disgust, nausea

[ a compensation ]

there is delight and desire in speaking
a name. it can rip any
heart, in two. anonymous
name, no-one’s
name

to speak a name is to rip
the heart in two. it’s good
to think about this. how it would
be if they said something like
I know your handwriting. these
things we don’t know
well, these things we know
nothing about, not even askance

[ so many times this wish not
to die, ever ]

a kind of disgust, nausea, love
story, but one about love in
war and one that begins licking
from the foot up 


albatross
—    Paloma Vidal

they preferred
not to speak
ipanema beach
post 9
on the left
the 80s
that went by
without us noticing
a thing
they used to come
when my parents
travelled
against the flow
and who knows
from us
the beach packed
olha o mate
olha o biscoito
and we didn’t buy
a thing
the sandwiches
we’d brought
in a polystyrene box
the umbrella
the chairs
my grandparents sitting
silently
so as not
to give themselves
away
the 80s
went by
I didn’t see a thing
they preferred
not to speak
I learnt
the packed beach
the rough sea
my grandfather
who barely knew how
to swim
jumped in
and bobbed about
I ran
across the sand
calling
he didn’t hear
the sea took him
far away
I didn’t understand
from the sand
today
my children
call me
I prefer
not to speak
in the car
they want to know
“when you
were a kid”
I don’t know
if rather
than speaking
whether to jump in
and bob about
the blue covers everything
I am the blue
it’s like being
part
it’s like flying
in the water
it’s like being
in two places
at once
I drive silently
would like to say
the sign says
“albatross
bay”
they want to know
what is
an albatross
I say it’s
a bird
that looks
like it’s not made
to fly
but flies

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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

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