Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Poetry and Human Rights.... a world day.

This year the equinox anticipated one day, so from yesterday is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern one even though here in South Africa the weather looks like summer. Today here is Public Holiday, the 21th March 1960 South Africa was under the apartheid regime and the same same day in Sharpeville a horrible massacre took place. A crowd of unarmed people guided by activist Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe against the pass law, was attacked and shot by the police. None public officer was judged guilty for that mass offend.
Poetry Reading at Castel Sant 'Angelo, Rome 2002
Since 1966 the UN, in memory of that tragic event which took place in South Africa,  has declared the 21st March the International day Against Racism. But today is also the International Day of Poetry. And this morning a news went through different social networks and online magazine, Italian Poet Tonino Guerra passed away at the age of 93. Not many people abroad, especially here in South Africa know him, but Tonino Guerra has worked with film director Federico Fellini and this may sound more familiar to an international reader. This day celebrating poetry  all over the world  a great poets who taught the youth that “optimism is the scent of life”, has started a new journey to a mysterious country leaving us with an enormous heritage of culture.
Marcia Theophilo, Florin Mmaka at 4,
 Me and on the right poet Giovanni Tonelli
Lerici 2003
I’d also like to see these two International days: against racism and of poetry, joined by unique link. In the world, so many poets since the past, have fought against injustice through words and many poets have been persecuted for their activism and action letting us aware that words are never neutral, that words always says where do you stand and what do you stand for. I always chose Czeslaw Milosz who said “what is poetry for if not to liberate people”. Yes this is the spirit I could here make a list and quote so many poets who in different ways have been and still are activists, in first line defending human and civil  rights . But it would be unfair not to list them all so I ‘ve chosen one poet, who I personally know, the Brazilian poet MarciaTheophilo. Trying to define Marcia is hard, she is the poet, she is the poet who since she was a young anthropologist started “translating” the myths of the Amazon Forest for the common reader without simplifying but just giving an infinite account of what the language of the Indios with its musical sounds, means for the mankind of nowadays.  The calamity that human being has thrown on the Amazon says how bad human being have been and is destroying the Great Forest. Marcia through her poems first she has brought the great heritage of the TUPI language, the language of the Indios, which could have been lost long time ago; she has brought to our attention the great myths and legends of the Amazon, with all its creatures and colors, scents and sounds;  she has shown that is possible to fight for the right using words;  the cause of the Amazon is the cause of all human being and is not only the destroying of trees and plants, but a great loss of indigenous people who live in close relationship with their environment, and the loss of their unique culture, language, knowledge of which we can't live without.

I met Marcia the first time, after a long exchange of e-mails,  in her apartment-workshop-studio set along the Tevere in Rome, together with her partner Aldo Turchiaro, an amazing painter who had been able with his intense colors and essential lines to translate Marcia’s poetry in images.
I was honored of her preface on my first poetry collection L’Ottava Nota,  and being together in international Poetry Festivals and in that beautiful landscape which is the one of Lerici launching one of my books from  the top of an ancient castle facing the beautiful Mar Ligure.  Marcia thank you for entered in my life, we still have Aldo’s painting on our wall and the little matrioska Florin gazes at when I talk about you….but most of all thank you for your  voice which , even after a long time, still waves in my ears and let me feel the greatness of your words.

This is one of the interview I did to Marcia in 2002. Published on the literary magazine ALICE.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA -Marcia Theophilo, you were born in Fortaleza, on the North-East coast of Brazil, which are your most vivid memories of your Brazilian childhood?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I grew up with other children, with the multicolored species of birds. I've known the forest from infancy. My paternal grandparents came from the Amazon, where my father was born.
In the Amazon of my childhood the children lived in the villages in total freedom. They played and the playing itself taught them to live, to pick the fruit from the trees, to mimic the sound of the birds and of other animals; to live rain and water as an element of play.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - In African countries, but also in Latin-America, family symbolizes the solid point in the life of the people. The family is large, people participate in it, they gather together, stay with each other even with little means.
What sort of family did you grow up in?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - Ours was a numerous family. My grandmother was born in the forest, and my father also is a child of the Amazon. The meeting with these proud, extraordinary people sparked the beginnings of my lyrical interests. My mother's family, on the other hand, is of Portuguese origin. They represented the city, the school, the rules of European life for me.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA -  How would you define your childhood?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I say that the poet is childhood. My childhood was filled with immense spaces, enormous trees and with flowers and fruits of the brightest colors. And all of this is my poetry.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA -Which were the stories and legends were you told when you were little?
My paternal grandmother was the first person to narrate the myths to me. The immense visions of the river, the voices of the wind, the metamorphosis of the moon; stories of sirens and of gnomes. She made me aware of the polyphony of the voices and the sounds of nature where the animals, the trees, the flowers were characters who knew how to communicate with each other and with human beings. She was a grand Indian matriarch who told stories.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - What are the most beautiful memories you have of those times?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - As I told you, I was brought up in the forest, in total freedom. At that time, at only five years of age, I learned to write and from them on I was elected by my family, by my clan, as the scribe. I was respected for this and my work was given its due acknowledgement. I wrote letters for my grandmother; poetry dedicated to their boyfriends for my girlfriends; stories to perform. I was Marcia the scribe and it's from this precautious beginning that my life as a poet evolved.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - What did you use to read in your adolescence? Have there been literary characters that enchanted you and left you a mark inside you?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The first books I read, during my childhood still, were those of Monteiro Lobato: "O sitio do picapau amarelo" (The Farm of the Yellow Wood-Pecker), which is a series of very popular books in the countries where Portuguese is spoken. It narrates stories in which imagination and fantasy are intertwined with reality. All the characters in this book fascinated me a lot but above all there was Emilia, a rag doll who could talk. Later my favorite character was Don Quixote.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - What did you think you would do when you grew up?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I dreamed of being a poet.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - You studied anthropology in Rio and San Paulo; what memories do you have of your university years in Brazil? Why did you choose to study anthropology? What did you find fascinating about this science?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - They were incandescent years of great changes. I was interested in the difficult condition of the Amazon-Indians. I wanted to understand their humanity, which is pure at its origin and because of this threatened by degradation and exposed to great peril, in depth. Through my grandmother's tales I learned the meaning of their deep union with the forest, and through my experiences I became interested in the origins of the Amazon-Indians' culture. In my work I tried to make a fusion between emotional memory and cultural memory, between poetry and documentation, between the archaic world and the contemporary world and thus creating a whole in which all these issues intertwine. However, I believe that without the poetry one cannot reach the forest's soul. Anthropology is a subject which in the end favors objects and the material culture. I favor the lighter subject - the soul - poetry.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - In Brazil you were part of a group of avant-garde artists such as M.Bonomi, Otavio Araujo, Ubirajara, and L. Abramo who were active in San Paolo. What did you talk about when you met?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I worked with important Brazilian artists: writing poetry for their catalogues and their exhibitions, and, in time, short essays published in a magazine called Science and Culture. Frequenting the world of each of these artists became a regular habit in my life as did the interaction between visual art and poetry. All the poems which I wrote on their work are collected in my first book which was published in 1974.
The historic avant-garde is solely a European phenomenon and was vital only at the beginning of the twentieth century. After that there were movements of neo-avant-garde. This means they have the defect of the neo. On the whole the protagonists of the avant-garde were active until before the second world war. Today I'm motivated by everything that transcends boundaries and slogans invented by the critics and by the market.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - When then did you become interested in man's emotional sphere and when did you begin to write poetry? Do you remember your first poem?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The emotional sphere has always interested me. I began writing my first poems at the age of thirteen. They were poems which emulated the romantic writers. At the age of fourteen I sent two haikus to a newspaper's poetry competition, and I won it. The prize was a trip to Petropolis.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Did anthropology somehow steer you both to poetry and to the search for a more complete understanding of mankind?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - Poetry brought me to anthropology, not the other way round. Poetry evoked myths and rituals and gave me the possibility of perceiving the spirit of this primary, rather than primitive, humanity in its original and highest state, and therefore close to the myth of origin and the divine according to the animism of the Amazon's tribes. To understand the essence of all this was possible with poetry and with the records of words and images which correspond to unique and irreplaceable beings, because each one of them is part of this marvellous ancient civilisation. Certainly only the latest technology, with its barbarisms, could be so audacious as to penetrate into a forest like the Amazon that had sealed in its core an infinite richness which the blast of the bulldozers is systematically destroying.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Literature wise, who are the writers that formed you?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I began reading the Portuguese and Brazilian classics in my adolescence. For example Letters by Pero Vaz de Camianha, which are the chronicles of the first travels and first contacts between the Amazon-Indians and of the Portuguese; Pilgrimage by José de Anchieta, a seventeenth's century travel book; and other authors such as Eça de Queiroz, Camões, Jose' de Alencar, Gonsalves Dias, Castro Alves. I also read the French and Russian classics. I liked Racine very much, and Victor Hugo, Camus, Tolstoi and, above all, Dostoevski. I also loved the Latin poets like Lucretius and Ovid. The characters which enchanted me are many, I read with great empathy, but perhaps more than anybody I was enchanted by Don Quixote and the Prince Minskin of Dostojevski's "Idiot".
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - You had a deep friendship with the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti, which continued also during the difficult period of his exile. He wrote about you: With a knot in her throat/ Marcia Theophilo shouts,/ Marcia Theophilo sings./ Profound heart vigilant,/ hard voice denouncing/ in clear, open smile. How has his friendship affected you?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The relationship with Rafael Alberti was born from my admiration for his capacity to fuse painting and poetry, animating the verses with images. Beyond this love for his painting and his poetry what united me in friendship with Rafael was his political involvement in the cause for freedom. It was a great friendship. I have to acknowledge that it gave an enormous input to my work, given that Rafael was a great poet who was also gifted with immense self-expression in his public recitals, and there I discovered that I too could develop a way of communicating to people through performance. But, above all, I understood that my territory, the well from which to draw, was not the prairie of the European culture, but my Brazilian and Amazon one.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Where does your poetry come from?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - It is born from the music of words, not from an idea. Its origin comes from the musicality of the Amazon-Indians' words.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA- Talking about music, you studied the piano for seven years: your mother wanted you to become a concert pianist. How much did this influence your poetry?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - A lot. When I write I associate words to a melody, to a musical motif and often tied to the flute or drum.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Through poetry you've chosen to give voice to nature: that nature which lives and reproduces herself, which grows and multiplies, but, above all, to the one who suffers at the hands of man. How can poetry be the messenger for an idea?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I think that Franco Loi gave a good answer to this in a review of my book I Sing the Amazon: «Certainly poetry does not offer ideologies or easy changes, but it speaks to consciences and souls, and its task has for ever been that of keeping awake the highest sense of correct mission and of true values in humanity».
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Marcia Theophilo and the forest. Do you feel more mother or daughter? Or maybe it's the same thing?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - My Indian side tells me that man and nature is the same thing. European culture, with its humanistic approach that favours separation, is today in a deep crisis.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - How then does Western culture differ from the culture of the Southern hemisphere, or more specifically, that of the Amazon-Indians', in its relationship with nature?
MARCIA THEOPHILO -The difference between the Western idea of nature and ours is that in the Western culture a tree is regarded as a decorative element of the landscape, whilst we consider it as being at one with our existence. Today Brazil is divided in two: on the one side there is the bourgeoisie and a country which is progressing, on the other side there are the abandoned children, the trees, the animals and all that which appertains to the emotional world which is not inserted in the economic system and which the powers that be ignore. Only when the system will be able to understand that plants are not only an ornament of the landscape, but sacred living beings, and that they are also life and oxygen; when it will understand that to violate infancy and also put at risk the future of adults, only then things will be able to change.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Your poetry speaks of the Amazon-Indians, gives them a voice: describes to us their bond with the cosmos.
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I believe in the culture of origin rather than the academic one (necessary as it may be). Therefore, listening to the voice of my paternal origins, I allowed that which is dictated by my inspiration to flow. We know that the Amazon-Indians had an uninterrupted continuity with the environment and have never sought a separation from it.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - In your poetry you mix Portuguese and Italian . . .
MARCIA THEOPHILO - I think that Mario Luzi, in his introduction to my last book, Kupahuba - the Tree of the Sacred Spirit, explained my relationship with the two languages well: «Theophilo's Italian translation seems to be a twofold text. And this is not of little value given that the writer successfully expresses the rhythmic and the timbre system of the Italian language and yet, to my mind, without minimally sacrificing the rhythm of the original sound of the Brazilian-Portuguese language».
VALENTIN ACAVA MMAKA - It is said that the destiny or one of the characteristics of a human being is written in his name. In your poetry one meets marvellous creatures with fabolous names .  How important are names in the Amazon-Indians' culture?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The names the Amazon-Indians have are names of flowers, animals, divinities of the forest. And it's by calling themselves thus that they again reinforce their profound relationship with nature. The less the names are spoken the more they become permeated with mystery, and so the Amazon-Indian names haven't become widespread like those of the European language. Given that they are less known they retain a major force of mystery.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - You write: the forest is my dictionary, as though it is she who dictates the verses of your poetry. Is that correct? What work do you do on the words?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The dictionary is considered the collective reference for words, yet it is always limited in its numbers. The dictionary of the forest seems to me to be unlimited, infinite, where there are new words. The sea is also a dictionary as is the sky.
Mine is a work of research. Above all it is a research into my personal memory, in my memories of my family. Then I go directly to the place itself, the Forest, to look for verification. I look for the ancient origin of the names of the trees, the fruits, the animals, the rivers. They are names which already have the rhythms of musical notes in themselves: araracanga, kupahuba, jabuticabeira, ubirajara, mangalo, macaranduba.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - You've frequented or frequent memory a lot: first as an anthropologist and then as a poet. What is your relationship with memory?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - For me memory does not have borders, it begins from afar going backwards, and then continues from afar coming forwards.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - In your book, The Jaguar Children, you compare the children who are born and live in the forest to those who are born and live in a different type of forest - the cement one which is the big metropolis. Are there still jaguar children in the forest today? And how are the ones who live in the city?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - The name jaguar is a metaphor to give children a strength which is denied to a lot of them in Latin American cities. In fact they are abandoned in the metropolis and they wander like starving gangs in search for affection and food. It's a warning to those who undervalue their force and their presence.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Have you come across awareness for the fate of the forest and the indigenous people amongst the young Brazilian poets? I mean are there others who use their art as messenger for a cause?
MARCIA THEOPHILO -The Brazilian political climate does not facilitate new voices: it's enough to read the political position on the Amazon. Politicians consider the Amazon to be an exclusively Brazilian commodity and that's why they feel that they can administer it in a nationalistic fashion; and this too is right, but only relatively so. That which is lost on politicians and businessmen is that if the oxygen which the forest generates disappears the whole planet will bear the consequences.

VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - What did poetry taught you and what is it still teaching you?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - What poetry has taught me is that one must invent it. That one has to invent the rules and not follow them.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - Can you give our readers the names of young Brazilian or Portuguese poets who deserve to be read, and why?
MARCIA THEOPHILO -I have, in fact, an anthology of Brazilian poets which I've translated to show publishers, but the voices I know are not antiestablishment voices. Let's hope that there are some hidden voices.
VALENTINA ACAVA MMAKA - You've received many prestigious recognitions for your work. You were also a candidate for the Nobel Prize. What would winning this prize mean to you?
MARCIA THEOPHILO - Winning prizes is a dangerous goal, but they help communicate to others what is being hatched inside of us, and this could be helpful to others. Defending trees is today a goal which is of interest to both the planet and man because of the air we breathe.

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