September 13, 2012

Renowned Brazilian poet visits Plattsburgh State


---- — PLATTSBURGH — A boy was born on Nov. 13, 1953, in Maranhão, a northeastern state of Brazil.

His mother was a campesina, a field worker of African descent. His father hailed from a wealthy and politically powerful family, of European descent, who owned the land where field workers eked a living.

For his mother, he was the son fervently prayed for. For his father, he was the elusive son not born of the union with his wife.

His father wanted to bring him into his privileged world. His mother heroically refused, thus setting in action the forces that forged the boy into poet, who chose the non de plume Salgado Maranhão, a tribute to his family’s surname and his native place.


In Brazil, Maranhão is a literary rock star with the distinction of penning lyrics for top jazz and pop musicians. His “Mural de Ventos (Mural of Winds)” won the prestigious Prêmio Jabuti in 1999. Last year, “A Cord a Palavra (The Color of the Word)” was honored as the best book of poetry by the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Maranhão has authored nine collections of poetry. The most recent “Sol Sangüíneo (Blood of the Sun),” published by Milkweed Editions, is his first book translated into English by Dr. Alexis Levitin, SUNY distinguished professor at Plattsburgh State.


Maranhão, a visiting presidential scholar, and Levitin offer a bilingual reading of “Sol Sangüíneo” 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Cardinal Lounge, Angell College Center.

The poet and the translator were fatefully paired by Luiz Fernando Valente, a professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies and comparative literature at Brown University. Five years ago, Valente invited Maranhão and Levitin to a conference in hopes they would collaborate on a translation project. “Sol Sangüíneo” is the result.

Wednesday’s reading is part of a four-month book tour reaching more than 50 colleges, writing retreats and the prestigious Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, N.J.


“Blood of the Sun” satisfies Maranhão’s appetite for polysemic words. The book’s title suggests dual meanings: full of energy or full of death.

Maranhão deliberately stretches the meanings of words up to their very limits to see if he can get more meaning out of words than they normally have.

“‘Blood of the Sun’ brings together the history of the African blacks brought to the New World and combines that history with the power of the word to transform my personal history,” said Maranhão, with Levitin as translator.

“I am a man of people and bring a voice to the people who didn’t have a voice.”

His poetic voice arises out of a New World milieu of African traditions and the Moors of the Iberian Peninsula.

“There were popular poets, who were really an inspiration for me. These are poets without any formal education, who are capable of improvising poems in any situation. They make a living moving around the countryside. It is a popular art. I have an uncle, who was one of the greatest of these poets in the state of Maranhão.”

These folk poets are reminiscent of Provençal troubadours. Those literate printed poems on cordels (broadsides), which they distributed. Those who were illiterate sang their songs accompanied by guitar, maracas and drums.


He worked as a campesino until age 15. His family relocated to Teresina, the capital of Piauí, so he could get educated.

“The fact that I was kept by my mother is the propelling force that turned me into a poet. Having grown up with poor, ordinary people and field workers, and at the same time, being connected with the people with the greatest economic and political power, informed my vision of the human condition and social life.

“Within my own family, I had the chance to know both sides of the social structure. My mother always wanted me to study. She wanted to show she was up to the task of making something special of this kid.”

In Teresina, he discovered the public library, and there, literature and poetry.

Educators/family friends taught him how to read and write to prepare him for school. The joy of reading seized him. As a consequence, he completed seven years of study in two years.

About five years later, he was accepted into three universities in Rio de Janeiro. His dream was deferred until he received a full scholarship to an elite Catholic university.


At age 24, his peers read his poems, which appeared in “Rage to Right: Thirteen Impossible Poets” published in 1978.

Maranhão was recruited to write song lyrics by Ivan Guimarães Lins, a Latin Grammy-winning Brazilian musician. From his earnings, he purchased a home for his family in Teresina.

His poetry was stymied at the university, so he left. He felt his poetry and lyrics survived better in the real world.

For 14 years, he was a physical therapist at Club Med. He studied kung fu with a Chinese master and taught the martial art.

“I was making a revolution in language,” Maranhão said. “I invented words by putting together words.”

For example, palavora, is an amalgamation of word, tree and labor or work.

“This is the kind of thing I enjoy,” Maranhão said.

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHO: Salgado Maranhão, prize-winning Brazilian poet, and Dr. Alexis Levitin read from "Sol Sangüíneo (Blood of the Sun)." WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19. WHERE: Cardinal Lounge, Angell College Center, Plattsburgh State. ADMISSION: Free.

Email Robin