Book excerpt: New Brazilian Poems – A bilingual anthology after Elizabeth Bishop, translated and edited by Abhay K


Introduction and nine poems

New Brazilian Poems

New Brazilian Poems: A Bilingual Anthology after Elizabeth Bishop is a labour of love. When I came to Brazil in January, 2016, I had no idea about the rich world of Brazilian poetry or literature. I had read poems of Vinicius de Moraes and João Cabral de MeloNeto, fellow poet-diplomats of Brazil, thanks to The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry edited by J. D. McClatchy. I was also e-introduced by poet-diplomat Indran Amirthanayagam to Marcos Freitas, a Brazilian poet whom I had requested to contribute a poem on Brasilia for CAPITALS – An Anthology on Capital Cities, I was editing those days. I had also read a poem on Brasilia by Sylvia Plath.

In my earlier stint in Nepal (2012-2015), I had been regularly hosting Poemandu, a monthly poetry reading event at the Nepal-Bharat Library in Kathmandu. I wanted to start something similar in Brasilia. So, upon my arrival in Brazil’s capital, one of the first things I did was to invite Marcos for coffee. Savouring aromatic Brazilian coffee I broached with him the idea of Chá com Letras, a monthly literary event at the Indian Embassy in Brasilia. This meeting proved to be of great value. I asked Marcos to invite poets for the first edition of Chá com Letras in January 2016. He invited Antônio Miranda, a well-known poet and the director of the National Library in Brasilia and a number of other poets for its first edition.

I moderated the program in English. Marcos introduced the poets and they read their poems in Portuguese. I did not understand or speak a word of Portuguese then, but I listened to their poems and paid attention to their sounds. After the readings, we enjoyed Chai and samosa and chatted, posed for photographs, exchanged books and became friends. This is how I became familiar with the works of contemporary Brazilian poets. I kept safely all the books I received as presents for reading them carefully, hoping someday I would become proficient in Portuguese.

I started learning Portuguese with a Brazilian teacher who came to the Embassy three times every week. I supplemented my learning by reading the Correio Braziliense, Brasilia’s leading daily, especially its art and culture section edited by José Carlos Vieira, a poet himself. In its pages, he regularly published poems by contemporary Brazilian poets. I read these poems and tried to translate them. After a year and half, when I started to get a hang of Portuguese language, I started thinking of reading all the poetry I had received as presents from Brazilian poets.

Later, I took Chá com Letras to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where I had the opportunity to meet poets from these two lively cultural centres. During the course of three years, I travelled to Manaus, Porto Alegre, Salvador (Bahia), João Pessoa, Recife, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Tiradentes, Paraty and interacted with local poets and learnt about their work. Most of the Brazilian poets continue to have some other job. Some are diplomats just like me, some teach at the universities, some are journalists, and others are lawyers. Nicolas Behr, a poet who has written mostly about Brasilia, runs a nursery called Pau Brasilia. Publishing poetry is difficult and most poets publish their poems with small publishers and sell them at supportive restaurants in Brasilia. There are no literary magazines of repute in Brasilia which publish poetry. Large publishing houses are mostly based in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Some of them occasionally publish poetry. The idea of editing an anthology of Brazilian poems came to me after an anthology titled 100 Great Indian Poems edited by me with poems spanning over 3,000 years of Indian poetry and written in 28 Indian languages was translated into Portuguese and was published by the University of São Paulo. It felt natural to take Brazilian poetry to India and the rest of the world. So I decided to translate poems of Brazilian poets into English and the idea of this anthology was born.

It was an arduous task to read the works of contemporary Brazilian poets and select their best poems for translation. In all but a few cases, I decided to keep only one poem per poet. I had been keeping safely poems which were published in the Correio Braziliense over the years. Recently I revised my translations of these poems. I also read various anthologies of Brazilian poetry published in print and online and was amazed at the richness and diversity of verse written over centuries. I came across works of Brazilian poets who were unknown to me and realized how many wonderful poets continue to thrive away from media limelight. I think it is important to mention here some of the anthologies of Brazilian poetry published earlier, which I came across while editing this anthology. These include among others: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry edited by Elizabeth Bishop and Emanuel Brasil (Wesleyan University Press, 1972) which included 14 poets; An Introduction to Modern Brazilian Poetry: Verse Translations by Leonard S. Downes (Clube de Poesia do Brasil, 1954); Poets of Brazil (English and Portuguese edition) by Fredrick G. Williams (New York: Luso-Brazilian Books, 2004) containing 120 poems from 33 poets, ranging from the 16th century to the 20th century and 13 Emerging Brazilian Poets by Ricardo Corona and Charles A. Perrone (São Paulo: Editora Iluminuras, 1998).

Reviewing Elizabeth Bishop’s and Emanuel Brasil’s anthology in The New York Times in 1973, literary critic Helen Vendler wrote – “If the genius of Brazilian poets is continuing at the level shown here, a second volume of translations is very much to be desired.” I took this responsibility on my shoulders. I have taken certain liberties while translating these poems to make these translations accessible to the contemporary reader. Poems included in this anthology cover a vast range of themes, including love, longing, hope, and references to the past and future.

Poets included here come from all corners of Brazil, including poetry movements, genres and poetic styles that emerged after Bishop’s anthology, published in 1972. Bishop’s bilingual anthology has been my inspiration. However, there are some important differences between her 1972 volume and my own. For example, Bishop had the luxury of spending 15 years in Brazil and getting to know the works of Brazilian poets of her time much better; many authors were known to her personally. I had but three years in Brazil and a fairly busy diplomatic schedule as Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister-Counselor at the Indian Embassy in Brasilia. Elizabeth Bishop’s anthology featured fewer poets, but with more selection by them. Bishop also invited critically acclaimed U.S. poets to translate for her volume while I am the sole translator of this anthology.

I have organized the poems alphabetically, instead of in a chronological order, giving primacy to the poem over the poet.

Wellington Bujokas

No title
– Nicolas Behr

a poem
is a public area
invaded
by imagination

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Nicolas Behr (b.1958) is a poet from Cuiabá, MT and has lived in Brasilia, DF, since 1974. He published his first book, Iogurte com farinha, in 1977. He created, together with Zunga and Lacerda, the MOVE – Movimento Ecológico de Brasília – the first environmental NGO in the Federal Capital, in 1982. He has several published poetry collections to his credit.

I turn and look again in the glass
– Thereza Christina Rocque da Motta

I turn and look again in the glass.
I recompose my hair with my hands
and wipe off the marks from my face.
I did what I’ve done, because I wanted to,
but I don’t need to carry it with me.
Forget it.

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Thereza Christina Rocque da Motta (b.1957) is a poet, a publisher, and translator born in São Paulo, SP. Has published Chiaroscuro, Lilacs, Marco Polo and the Blue Princess, Odysseus & The Book of Pandora, among other books, and translated Marley & Me, The Raven and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. She founded Ibis Librisin Rio de Janeiro in 2000.

Insignia
– Edson Cruz

I live in
this world

bird of paradise
without legs

a sketch
that never

alights

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Edson Cruz (b.1959) is a poet and publisher from Ilhéus, BA. He studied literature at the University of São Paulo (USP). He is the editor and publisher of literary e-zine Musa Rara and has several published poetry collections to his credit.

Clown
– José Carlos Vieira

solitude… the clown
was drunk and
the carnival was over.

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

José Carlos Vieira (b.1960) is a poet, journalist, and editor of Divirta-se Mais and “TV+” in Correio Braziliense, in Brasilia, DF. He has published ten poetry collections including Passion Poems and Similar Things (Geração Editorial, 2013).


A Study about purpose III
– A. P. Arendt

Learn the ineffable
Sum the pleasant
Walk on the reprised paths
And find in them an incredible familiar sound.
Read again found scrolls
Roll in front of intransient Sisyphus
Let go the middle men of consumed faith
Forget the demolishers of spirit
Run until you’re tired
Rest so tomorrow you’re on track
Overcome the burden
Trust the invisible
Refute what is bitter
Contest the infallible
Fight the glorifiers of death
Witness that bad luck is reserved for bad mouths
Live simply, every day from the same fountain
Seek life and find your purpose in it.

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Ana Paula Arendt (b.1980) is a poet and diplomat from Rondonia. She received an honorable mention, the Martins Pena Prize 2015, from the Union of Brazilian Writers (UBE) – RJ, for her play, The Constituent, at the Brazilian Academy of Letters. She has several published poetry collections to her credit.

Antipasto
– Antônio Miranda

Everything the poet writes
is summarized
in one word: solitude
Writing is distancing oneself from the world
to be able to understand it
it’s a way of dying.
Living is another thing
albeit alienated.
I would trade a thousand rhymes
for a night of love.
And I would exchange a beautiful poem
about hunger
for a simple plate of food.

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Antônio Miranda (b.1940) is a prolific poet from Maranhão. A professor, organizer and the first Director of the National Library in Brasilia, DF, he has several published poetry collections to his credit.

 Absence
– Roberto Medina

unbearable
pain:
in cold nights,
the soul
also pulls
a blanket

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Roberto Medina (b.1970) is a poet, Professor, playwright, theater director, translator, literary critic, and writer. He teaches drama, literature, photography, cinema, and psychoanalysis. He has published several books and plays.

Frontier
– Marcos Freitas

useless round
limits of my nothingness
the long hours of dreams
the light dawns indifferent to the world
frontier of infinite happiness:
here I am, again.

Translated from Portuguese by Abhay K.

Marcos Freitas (b.1963) is a poet from in Teresina, PI, and Civil Engineer. He has worked as Professor and researcher at the University of Fortaleza (Unifor), since 1990, where he created the Research Group on Water Resources. He has several published poetry collections to his credit.

 

 

About the author

Abhay K. is author of a memoir and seven collections of poems. He is also editor of CAPITALS (Bloomsbury), 100 Great Indian Poems (Bloomsbury) and New Brazilian Poems (Ibis Libris). He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013. His poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, The Asia Literary Review, Buenos Aires Poetry, The Missing Slate,  Eastlit, The Seventh Quarry, Indian Literature among others. He was recently featured in The Poet and the Poem at the Library of Congress. His forthcoming collection of poems is titled The Alphabets of Latin America.