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Brazilian Poet Angélica Freitas
Photo Credit: Diário da Manhã, Pelotas,Rio Grande do Sul

 

My Poetry Corner May 2019 features the poem “the woman is a construction” (a mulher é uma construção) from the poetry collection, a uterus is the size of a fist (um útero é do tamanho de um punho), by Angélica Freitas, a contemporary Brazilian poet and translator.

Born in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, in 1973, the eldest of four siblings, Angélica Freitas began writing poetry at the age of nine, but her journey to finding herself as a poet took a long and circuitous route. Her discovery, at the age of fifteen, that she was gay made it difficult for her to fit in with her peers. Bullies found her an easy target. At nineteen, following her father’s death, she escaped to Glasgow with a Scottish girlfriend. After six months of washing dishes and cleaning restrooms, she returned to her family home.

Opting to study journalism at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Freitas moved to the capital, Porto Alegre, where she remained after graduation. There, she could be invisible. In her poem, “the pink book of the foolish heart,” she recalls:

I had a girlfriend
with super powers
of invisibility
and when I walked beside her
I was also invisible

In 2000, an unexpected acceptance as a trainee with O Estado de São Paulo newspapers led Freitas to the metropolis of São Paulo. She confesses that she wasn’t a good reporter, but that the experience exposed her to other realities of life. After four years of suffering to write with the rhythm of a daily newspapers, she left them for a slower paced work schedule at a telecommunications magazine. A career in journalism, she came to realize, wasn’t for her. What she desired above all was to write poetry.

Her life changed on a Saturday in 2005 when, during a period of depression, she decided to attend a poetry workshop conducted by Carlito Azevedo, a poet from Rio de Janeiro. Two years later, under his mentorship, she published her first collection of poetry. That same year, she moved to Argentina where she lived for two years with her girlfriend. For the first time, she became part of a feminist group. Living among them made her question her own condition as a woman. On her return to Brazil, she moved back to her hometown to work full-time as a poet and writer.

Freitas’ second poetry collection, a uterus is the size of a fist (um útero é do tamanho de um punho), published in 2012, arose from her concerns about space, the female condition, and collective social constructions. Her journalistic training led her to investigate “what it is, after all, to be a woman.” She avoids categorizing women by focusing on the everyday experiences of the woman navigating a society that judges the female on external appearance and deviance from the norm, which Freitas describes as a good, clean woman. The poet establishes this norm with the opening poem in “the clean woman,” the first of three series of poems.

because a good woman
is a clean woman
and if she is a clean woman
she is a good woman 

With the simple prose of everyday usage, augmented with the use of anaphora, the poet presents the diverse number of women who deviate from the norm. These include women that society deems ugly, fat, dirty, and troublesome.

Husbands, the poet observes, conveniently reject a troublesome woman as a mentally ill woman, to be interned in a mental institution and buried.

a troublesome woman
is prohibited
taken to the warehouse
of women who are troublesome

Despite being an extremely clean woman, a very ugly woman, the poet notes, leads an uneventful life.

“it’s the poem of a dirty woman” brings to my mind the woman born into poverty; the jobless and homeless woman facing hard times; and the refugee woman fleeing violence and war.

the dirty woman in the market
she herself a fruit
fallen from a bunch
was feeding on fruit
through circumstances

The featured poem, “the woman is a construction,” is the first poem in the third series of poems of the same name. Freitas not only likens the woman to a housing complex, but also equates the woman’s identity and place in society as a social construct.

the woman is a construction
must be

the woman is basically meant to be
a housing complex
all the same
everything plastered
just change the color
 

particularly i’m a woman
of bricks on display
in social gatherings having to be
the most hardly dressed
 

As a lesbian living in a homophobic society, Freitas observes that the psychologists of the freud coffee shop cannot stop the tide of social change, in which every woman has a gay friend. She concludes:

nothing is going to change—
nothing will ever change—
the woman is a construction

To read the complete featured poem in English and its original Portuguese, and to learn more about the work of Angélica Freitas, go to my Poetry Corner May 2019.

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