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Volume 60 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Poetry

NAOMI HOKI MONIZ, Director, Brazilian Studies Program and Professor of Literature, Georgetown University


AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM, the main characteristic of Brazilian poetry was its ability to maintain a uniformly high quality of artistic expression and a capacity for innovation and diversity. Despite a long history of alternating between form and content, Brazilian poets generally have been more focused on reflection and less concerned with self-expression. As a result, the central object of the generational-biographical poetry has been taken over by a problematization of poetry itself—the implied reader and the concept of reality in it. The poetry is more reflexive, ironic, and elliptical.

This style is apparent in the last book published by Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna, Textamentos (item #bi2003001412#), and in works by others of his generation such as Sebastião Uchoa Leite's A espreita (item #bi2003001420#) and Affonso Avila's Código de Minas (item #bi2003004152#). The most common theme is that of the classic voyage, in various forms: Sant'Anna's book is based on his extended stays overseas (in the US and France) and trips to countries such as Italy and Greece; the commemorative 20-year edition of the epic Grande fala do índio guarani (1978–98), published together with A catedral de Colônia (1985) (item #bi2003001414#); and Cirne's Rio vermelho works as a Bildungsroman of the provincial boy who moved from the Northeastern backlands to Rio de Janeiro (item #bi2003001415#). Another variation of this same theme is Cassa's Bhagavad-Brita: a canção do beco, which takes the reader on a Joycean voyage through the dead-end streets of São Luís do Maranhão (item #bi2003001416#). Finally, Sergio Lemos' A luz no caleidoscópio is a maritime odyssey between his carioca Praia da Urca and the classic Aegean (item #bi2003004159#).

Another trend among the publications reviewed here is the use of content that echoes themes present since the redemocratization and globalization process in the 1980s, such as land rights, human rights, the environment, gender, ethnicity, and migration. Fernandes' Terratreme (item #bi2003001408#) and Guimarães' Canto da Amazonia: vida e morte da floresta (item #bi2003001418#). Both address the Amazon region and its survival, but with different paths: the latter work employs the traditional, 19th-century Indianist style and tone, while the former uses a more contemporary approach, critical of the human and environmental devastation. Moacyr Félix's Introdução a escombros is reminiscent of the 1960s belief in the transformative function of collective action (item #bi2003001409#); Amerindia, morte e vida, coauthored by the bishop Pedro Casaldáliga and Pedro Tierra, the spokespersons for land rights (Comissão Pastoral de Terras, MST), examines the survival of indigenous peoples from colonial times to the present plight of the Pataxós, indigenous residents in the area of Porto Seguro, Bahia, especially in view of the celebration of 500 years of Brazil's discovery (item #bi2003004158#).

Among women poets, there are two representative voices: Alcione Guimarães' Zuarte recalls Brazil's rural roots emulating the work of one of the greatest living poets in Brazil today, Adélia Prado, and provides a magical dimension to the intimate details of women's existence (item #bi2003003646#). And Chica Xavier is a well-known filha de santo, lyricist, and singer of songs and prayers for various orixas and figures of Afro-Brazilian religions (item #bi2003004153#).

Mass culture is disseminated and distributed through mass media, and this sociocultural form creates complex relations, information crossings, and different interactions encompassing many segments of the population. In recent decades, many lyricists have found their works studied and published in book format. One such example is Paulo César Pinheiro, who has written lyrics for many famous Brazilian singers and composers. His Atabaques, violas e bambus is a historical journey, based on oral traditions, of the founding cultures of Brazil (item #bi2003001417#). Abel Silva, another lyricist and poet who worked with popular singers such as Ivan Lins, Fagner, and Gal Costa, published Só uma palavra me devora, covering three decades of his work (item #bi2003004157#). The anthology of poetas populares organized by Vicente Salles is an important collection because it illustrates the scope of regional manifestations of this genre, including the Northeastern cantores who live in the large migrant communities in two major urban centers in the Southeast (item #bi2003003644#).

Finally, it is worthwhile to note the publication of Poemas by Ariano Suassuna, one of the most acclaimed Brazilian playwrights. Suassuna combines simple and sophisticated styles taken from popular culture and high culture, oral language, and erudite forms woven into the rich culture of the Northeast with universal motifs and the picaresque humor described as "astúcia é a coragem do pobre" ("the cleverness and courage of the poor") (item #bi2003001413#).


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