Brazilian poet bridges language gap with prizewinning verses

Upon entering the KnightSpot with an audience of over 100 people, Brazilian contemporary poet Salgado Maranhão said, “I feel like a pop star … [I’m so] overwhelmed, I may pass out.”

Maranhão is the author of several poetry collections including “The Color of the Word,” which won him the highest prize for poetry in Brazil, the Premio de Poesia da Academia Brasileira de Letras.

On Thursday Oct. 4, Maranhão read selections from his latest collection, “Sol Sangüíneo” or “Blood of the Sun,” with help from SUNY Plattsburgh English professor Alexis Levitin, who translated Maranhão’s Portuguese to English. Geneseo was Levitin and Maranhão’s 15th stop on a 51-location tour.

Maranhão was born in a region of Brazil where he said that the “only thing we had in abundance was sun.” Growing up, Maranhão said his mother would invite traveling spoken-word poets into their home, as per tradition, which introduced him to poetry.

At 15, he left his home and traveled to the provincial capital where he learned to read and write. There, he discovered the library and began reading “great 19th and 20th century Brazilian poets [and] Dante and Homer,” Maranhão said. He started writing his own poetry at the age of 18.

The pieces that he and Levitin read from “Sol Sangüíneo” range from childhood memories and his Afro-Brazilian heritage to his thoughts on consumerism, the loss of love and narcissism. He also read a poem about his mother that he worked on for fifteen years.

Listening to poetry expressed in both Portuguese and English gave the audience a chance to hear “the music of two languages,” as Levitin said. In both, the poetic language was exquisitely beautiful, and everyone in attendance seemed moved by Maranhão’s words.

During the question-and-answer segment after the reading, Maranhão said it “never occurred to him [that] it would be so easy to find an audience in America … To see so many young people here to hear poetry, [it’s an] indication that the world is not so lost.”

Maranhão said he believes that “poetry comes from [an] unconscious, deep place inside us.”

On the subject of translating his poetry into English, Maranhão said he “considers it the miracle of poetry … writing in a language so distant from English, [and] writing in a genre so removed from the norms of society.”