How Brazilian women are conquering literary territory with spoken poetry
Art: Luiz Pedro Prisco Costa The slam in Brazil is a verb in feminine tense. Like a seed that is quickly spread in the air by birds or wind, it came to Brazil in 2008 through a woman's voice and, since then, it has flourished wherever a woman has something to say - and out loud. Speaking of poetry slams in Brazil requires speaking of street art too. Many things have changed since the country was immersed in a military dictatorship and the Brazilian songwriter and singer Sérgio Sampaio recorded Cada Lugar Na Sua Coisa in 1976. At that time, the cultural industry was still organized around radio and television stations, and the traditional publishing market. So, the street was of central importance to the protest art as well as to artists who wanted to break the mainstream. Even if, at the time, this objection was run mostly by white males. "A book of poetry in a drawer is useless The place of poetry is on the sidewalk The place of the painting is in the exhibition The place of music is on the radio An actor is seen on stage and on television The fish is in the sea The place of the samba plot is the asphalt The place of the samba plot is the asphalt ” Sergio Sampaio** Cada Lugar Na Sua Coisa | The music In the course of time, the street has been given the same importance as Sampaio gave it, especially if we think of it in recent times, Brazilian summer this year, when Covid-19 lockdown had not been imposed yet. Forty-four years after Sampaio released his song, reality vigorously corresponds to what he described. If we focus on the street poetry scene that the song alludes to, which is what interests us here, we find the streets taken by spoken verses. Picture that: those words all written and left in the drawer, in the silence of the bedroom or living room, now acquire Carnival status and go to the street to celebrate. Poetry has lost its shame, discretion, restraint and has become a show. And women have everything to do with it. One of the women in the Brazilian poetry slam whose name is essential is Roberta Estrela D’Alva to tell the story of how this type of poetry tournament began to take place in the country. In 2008, when the actress from São Paulo was in New York, United States, researching hip hop for a play, she attended a very special competition, a poetry competition. Baptized as slam, it was nothing more than a battle of poetry of their own authorship, through a corporal and vocal performance, in which the competitors recited poems for an audience during a period of previously established time. And the winners were chosen according to the decision of a jury that was usually formed, at the time, with people from the audience. Created by Marc Kelly Smith, a construction worker in love with poetry, the slam was born in 1986 as a show, the Uptown Poetry Slam, in a bar Chicago, and quickly spread to other cities, coming to win the heart of Roberta’s, who, eleven years ago, was looking for hip hop but left the United States with a poetic movement in her luggage. “What caught my attention the most was the diversity, as there were people of all kinds, various topics, and a way of expressing themselves differently from the others” says Roberta in an interview to the HuffPost Brasil site in October 2018. Back to Brazil, she found nothing of the kind around here and decided to create ZAP Slam (Autonomous Zone of the Word) in the most peripheral communities of São Paulo, where diversity, especially of gender and race, was an emerging subject. ZAP Slam (Autonomous Zone of the Word) Although some important rules of slam remain the same as those determined by Marc Kelly in 1986 - do not use costumes, accessories, scenery or musical accompaniment, only declaim authorial text and respect the predetermined time for each tournament -, in Brazil, unlike United States, Europe and Australia, the battle of poetry was not restricted to clubs and venues. In Brazil of Sergio Sampaio, the competition ended up in the streets, squares and even under viaducts. From the creation of ZAP in 2008, to 2018, there were 149 slams happening periodically in Brazil. “What slam has is this unconventional education, learning from others, languages, ideas, and you are not at school, but you are. People have a sense that they are being educated, otherwise Roosevelt Square would not reach 800 people on a Monday night listening to a poem. And they pay to listen with their own money, there is no sponsorship, no advertising, nothing. What is it? If this is not a revolution, I don't know what it is. In a world where people no longer speak to each other, stop to listen to others, watching another human being saying what they believe, speaking a poem... I find this power very revolutionary”, says Roberta in the same interview. From the art engaged on the sidewalk to spoken poetry, to slam, in the Chicago-NYC-São Paulo connection, we close the focus again, this time geographically: we are under the Brooklyn Viaduct, downtown Porto Alegre, a city in the South of Brazil. We notice again that, on the microphone, there are more women than men. It's a street. It is spoken poetry. And it is a new, diverse, insurgent lyrical self. Opening the voice is Athena de Beauvoir, writer, existentialist philosopher and professor of philosophy. She's a poet. She is one of the first transgender women to stand out on the country's slam scene. Aloud, she speaks verses about the fetishization and violence to which the bodies of trans women are exposed.
Photo: Carlos Edler In the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, the slam movement led by women was organized soon after Roberta's creation of ZAP. When Roberta says that bringing together so many people in slams is an act of revolution, , highlighting that no one gives a voice to anyone because everyone already has a voice, and that the microphone is an instrument of power, it is easy to understand why women, including transgender women, immediately settled in the movement. In a country where the book business publishes more male authors - research by the professor at the University of Brasília Regina Dalcastagnè reports that, out of every 10 novels published between 2005 and 2014 by the three largest Brazilian publishers, only 3 were authored by women, the rest of the writers were men, mostly white, cisgender and from the center of the country (Rio and SP cities) . In this scenario, where would the women's writings end up? It is very true to say that they are not in the drawer sung by Sampaio. They are not even in books. Maybe some of them have not been written, are just in their voices or thoughts. How much poetry is there in a woman's silenced head and heart? How to access it? On the margins of the publishing market, in crisis in their business model, reading events and slams quickly have become a form of expression of women's authorial production. Their poetry came out of the drawers, even though the drawers here are just doodles in diaries or forbidden feelings. Unlike the analog environment where the engaged art of the 60s and 70s was packed, the digital sphere played a fundamental role in the dissemination and formation of audiences and the reach of spoken poetry made by women. Movements such as global scale hashtags, like #readwomen and #metoo, fostered the women’s desire for representation in spaces of power as politics, film industry, science, and also literature. Mel Duarte Videos on social networks spread the voice of women speaking poems, Instagram posts launch the #instapoets. The #girlpower wave asks for space, builds followers and audience, has scope and dialogues with events in the streets, venues and cultural centers. And 2019 establishes itself as emblematic for this occupancy of territory: that year the slammers started to feature in the official line-up of the Paraty Literary Festival (Flip), the biggest literature festival in Brazil; they published more and more books and also seemed to force the margins of what was conventionally called literature. Negra Nua Crua, released by the slammer Mel Duarte that year, became part of the recommended reading list for 1st year classes in the poetry project at a private High School in Porto Alegre, for example. The writer Conceição Evaristo signed the preface Querem nos calar - Poemas para serem lidos em voz alta, bringing together the power of the words of 15 women from different locations and realities, black, white, peripheral women, representatives of the LGBTQ movement, street artists and feminists. Nowadays, the slams and reading events, as soirees and festivals, are not only a way for women to conquer literary territory as well as representativeness, they also contribute to the self-representation of minorities whose stories seemed to interest no one. The purpose of the Sarau Nosotras, reading event founded in 2018 in Porto Alegre, was creating a safe space for women to share their poetic voices far from the validation of the male gaze. Unlike other soirees led by women to whom the male audience could attend as a listener, in the Nosotras, women would open their voices with only women's gaze. The idea was to experience what kind of narrative would emerge in a validation space exclusively for women. From the first event, held in September 2018, to the last one, in October 2019, all the reading circles, limited to an audience of 40 women from 13 to 80 years old, were sold out. Firstly shy, women gradually gained confidence to share their writings, which motivated Editora Zouk to propose a partnership to create a label to publish that production.
Sarau Nosotras | Photo: Histérica In the last event of the year, Marcela***, 24 years old, a poet accustomed to doing poetic performance, invited for the event, takes out her cell phone, looks seriously, her voice fails: “I am going to read here a poem that I only showed to my therapist”. She, a black woman, who grew up in a poor community, says the poetry was made to elaborate on the abuses she suffered from a relative because of her sexual orientation. It is difficult to imagine how she would be able to speak this poem if she saw men in the audience. In addition to Nosotras, and long before it, the city has already witnessed other similar initiatives. Created by Argentinian writer Mariam Pessah in 2017, Sarau das Minas has been promoting regular meetings to read and listen to texts written exclusively by women, with an open circle for reading authorial production. Although it is not closed to men, Mariam says, it is almost as if it were: “We never close the door, but they do not appear, it is normal, they are not interested in listening, but in talking. Now, if you announce that it is exclusively for women, it becomes a hustle and bustle”, says Mariam, laughing. On Facebook and Instagram, followers also have news about the program of another important event in the spoken poetry scene of women in the Capital: the Slam das Minas. Through the social networks, it is possible to follow the call for battles, usually scheduled at Praça da Matriz. With the slogan “Poetry contaminates, Slam das Minas”, the tournaments have a free theme, but some social, cultural or political scenarios are among the objects of poetry. As in Nosotras and Sarau das Minas, Slam das Minas also enables anyone who identifies as a woman to open their voice to share experiences. In slam, the battle poems have up to 3 minutes and the strength of orality and performance reinforces what, globally, has already been called a poetic gig. Slam das Minas “These movements, which many look at with suspicion, stimulate the literary scene, force changes. Conceição Evaristo has a text that says that the cultured language hides us. And that's it. Soirees and slams start giving visibility to what is hidden and start to move around the scene, creating contests, drawing the attention of publishers, opening spaces on bookshelves for books written by women”, reflects Mariam. In an interview with Revista Cult, in February 2018, when she released the latest data from the study on authorship and characters in the Brazilian novel, professor Regina Dalcastagnè makes the point of rejecting any accusation of literary patrolling in these movements of giving visibility to the authorship of women and black people, among others: “There is place for everyone. (…) The point is that, if we need to think about Brazilian literature, literature that speaks of us, living in this country, at this moment, we need to think of it as a mosaic. Composed of several perspectives, seen from different angles. This alone can enrich our production and account, at least, for the complexity of contemporary life. There is an idea of literature with a capital "L", which in the end is nothing more than male and white literature, since all production that does not pass through this place becomes adjectivized: feminine, black, peripheral, marginal. I insist that we have to think in terms of literature, without a capital L, and end this idea of “universal” literature to think of a much more alive and pulsating set. ” * Tatiana Cruz is a Brazilian journalist, poet, visual artist and Brazilian Literature specialist. She is also co-founder of Sarau Nosotras and creator of 1 Minute Slam, a global platform for women spoken poetry on Instagram. ** Free translation from Portuguese version below: “Um livro de poesia na gaveta não adianta nada Lugar de poesia é na calçada Lugar de quadro é na exposição Lugar de música é no rádio Ator se vê no palco e na televisão O peixe é no mar Lugar de samba enredo é no asfalto Lugar de samba enredo é no asfalto” *** Fictitious name to guarantee the poet's anonymity.