Made in Brazil: Women Writing on Gender Trouble – Virna Teixeira

(Editorial note for Alba Londres 08)

The increasing number of women writing poetry is a global phenomenon, and it has been especially notable in Brazil. Back to ten years ago, you might find a minority of women appearing in poetry anthologies, and having quite a hard time to publishing their work with mainly male publishers. Although is still common (you will find a very small number of Brazilian female publishers, for instance), things seem to be changing. Women poets are much more active today thanks to social media, have been fighting tenaciously for their own space, and organizing their own anthologies. Feminism has been much-discussed in the recent months, often passionately, in parallel with an awakening of a shocking reality in Brazil: violence and violence against women. The misogyny expressed in the mass media against Dilma Roussef during the process of her impeachment captured the attention of Brazilian women, independently of their political views, and reinforced the importance of women’s rights movements in the country. Other recent scandals, such as the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio, and a mass murder by a psychotic women hater in Campinas, whose declarations were much praised by sexists, were much debated in the country.

Latin America has the highest prevalence of gender violence in the world, and Brazil ranks fifth in the world for female murders. This alarming statistic is just the tip of the iceberg of everyday sexism that women face in public, private, and professional lives. The image of the sexy Brazilian female has been a patriarchal creation of a tropical sexuality that has served well for the purposes of objectification and domination of women in Brazil, and also has had repercussions in their public image abroad. It is a sexuality well accepted in a specific context, but submissive and repressed at the same time.

The girl from Ipanema that passes walking slowly in her small bikini, as sang by Vinicius de Moraes, is certainly totally out of tune with the contemporary reality.

I had those reflections in mind when I was invited by Jèssica Pujol to organize an edition on Brazilian poetry for Alba Londres, particularly in this moment when Brazil is mired in massive political, social and economic crises. Popular movements and feminism, by the way, are the main theme of an essay that the poet and journalist Flávia Rocha wrote specially for Alba. Considering Jèssica’s interesting work on Latin American poetry in several issues of the journal, as well as on feminism, it seemed the right moment to organize a selection of Brazilian poetry and writing with a feminist approach for the journal.

Seven Brazilian women poets were invited to choose pieces of their writing that expressed how they perceive and experience topics related to gender, violence against women, sexuality, and feminism in general in their work. I thought that this may provide a vibrant collage, and illustration of these topics, an experiment in poetics, and at the same time a creative piece of reflection for Alba’s readers, and for themselves. Although this is a small sample, I tried to invite poets from different regions, and from different generations, and sexual orientations. The result was rich and surprising.

Adriana Zapparoli, with her unique style, mixes the scientific language of her professional background with the poetic prose narrative of Heloisa, a putrescent-prostitute. Behind her unscrupulous femme fatale nature, she hides the pain of an unrequited love (for a weak male), forbidden for a whore. Jussara Salazar captures in her poems the universe of old women in Northeast of Brazil. A powerful writing that combines religiosity and mystical superstition, pointing not only to our Portuguese ancestry but also to the indigenous and – why not – shamanic. Carla Diacov transgresses against language and gender playfully and audaciously. That is also expressed in her series of visual performances in her selfies. Carla is not afraid to provoke and to expose violence in her language. In her poem ‘all forks’ for instance, she parodies Vinicius de Moraes’ prescription for an ideal female beauty.

Four poets presented in this selection, including myself, live currently abroad. Distance can prove to be a valuable observatory not only for questions related to gender, but also to understand our roots and our own cultural identity. Flávia Rocha, a poet from São Paulo and living in the United States, dialogues in a series of poems with other renowned female poets (and male) about gender issues. But she also observes the alienation of women in urban foreign contexts and their oppression portrayed in confined domestic atmospheres.

Érica Zingano, a nomadic poet from Fortaleza who now lives in Berlin, points out in a poem about immigrants: ‘when people ask me where i come from i say i was born in brazil which doesn’t explain much’. Meanwhile, some of her poems reflects on her ancestry, on her mother using a medication for chronic pain, on the rivalry among women and sisters as side effects of a patriarchal culture. Adelaide Ivánova, a poet from Recife who also lives in Berlin, is bruising, ironic but also realistic about sexual violence against women in Brazil: the shame of a womanwho is raped and then subjected to a medico-legal exam, being treated as an object; the rage of another against her violator, and her desire to rape him; another who sleeps with a hammer under her pillow to protect herself.(These poems were extracted from a collection called ‘The hammer’).

Two women writers, who also write poetry, collaborated with short stories for this issue. Cristina Judar exhibits the scenes behind a stripper’s work – a church-goer, a stripper by profession but ‘with the heart of a poet’, looking for inspiration to her writings. She ends up becoming a dominatrix to powerful men from conservative backgrounds in need of some physical masochism to exchange power, like a client who is the president and CEO of an international publisher. Assionara Souza explores the forbidden love of a lesbian clandestine affair in Butterfy. The discoveries, the metamorphosis, the fear, the shame, and the abyss in an atmosphere of a sacred Bataille’s eroticism. Wendy Trevino, an American-Mexican poet, also collaborated with her reflexions on Latinidad in some excerpts from Brazilian is Not a Race, translated by Jèssica Pujol and me into Portuguese and Spanish.

The contribution of translators, illustrators and photographers to this issue, both female and male who are sympathetic to feminism, were generous and extremely valuable. Our special thanks to them. We hope you enjoy the readings and the visual content.