Afro-Brazilian poet Lívia Natália de Souza, Bahia/Brazil, Poem “Negridians” (Negridianos) by Lívia Natália de Souza, Poem “Square Dance” (Quadrilha) by Lívia Natália de Souza, Police brutality, Racism in Brazil
My Poetry Corner June 2020 features the poem “Negridians” (Negridianos) from the poetry collection Currents and other marine studies (Correntezas e outros estudos marinhos) by Lívia Natália de Souza, an Afro-Brazilian poet and university professor. Born in 1979 in Salvador, Bahia, Northeast Brazil, Lívia Natália earned her Bachelor’s degree in Literature at the Federal University of Bahia in 2002. She further earned a Master’s degree (2005) and Doctorate (2008) in Theories and Criticism of Literature and Culture at the same institution where she lectures in Literary Theory. She also coordinates and teaches Literary Creation Workshops and works in projects for children at risk.
Lívia Natália’s debut poetry collection, Black water (Água negra), published in Salvador in 2011, received the Capital Bank Culture and Art-Poetry Award. In her poem “Asé” from that collection, the poet describes herself in terms of her African roots and connection with the natural world.
I am a black tree of gnarled root.
I am a river of muddy and calm profundity.
I am the arrow and its range before the scream.
And also the fire, the salt of the waters, the storm
and the iron of the weapons.
During the poet’s 2016 interview with SciELO, a São Paulo-based online forum, Lívia Natália admitted that racism influenced her work. “Racism in [Brazil], which calls itself a racial democracy, structures all relationships,” she said. “When I enter a room, not just a woman enters, a black woman enters and people read me with the racism machine assembled, even if that person is not a racist.” She added: “Racism is present from the moment I open my eyes to the moment that I close them. And…it’s present in my dreams, my nightmares.”
When speaking about violence in Brazil, the poet noted: “A black man or a black woman has to be in a combat position 24 hours a day, because when we sleep, the racist who lives inside people appears to accuse us of something.”
The poet shared her own experience with Bahia’s military police (MP) in February 2016 when they censored her short poem, “Quadrilha,” selected for the project “Poetry in the Streets” and featured on a billboard in Ilhéus—a city in Bahia’s southern coastal region popular with tourists for its cultural heritage and beaches. Bahia’s Police Association called for its removal for “inciting prejudices and intolerance against the military police.” When news spread among the police force nationwide, the poet received rape and death threats.
Inspired by Carlos Drummond’s poem of the same name, Lívia Natália’s version of life’s “Square Dance” of human relationships is one of two lives interrupted by police brutality.
Maria did not love João.
Only worshipped his dark feet.
When João died,
murdered by the MP,
Maria kept all his shoes.
In killing João, the police did not only take João’s life. They also destroyed Maria’s hoped-for relationship with her beloved, leaving her only with memories of times spent together square dancing.
In the featured poem, “Negridians,” the poet explores the black and white divide that, far too often, ends in lives interrupted by police brutality. The poet describes this global divide—a meridian she calls negridian—in the first stanza.
There is an invisible line,
raging twilight dividing the current.
Something that distinguishes my blackness from your white flesh
on a map where I do not have dominion.
As a black woman, the poet has no power over the space the dominant white population has assigned her and other blacks. She expands on the effects of the imposed confinement and oppression in the second stanza.
My negritude navigates in the riffraff,
in the shadows where light does not wander,
and the line imposes itself powerful,
oppressing my black soul,
curly with folds.
The spaces in which blacks are forced to live are not conducive for developing their full potential as human beings. Though she does not mention the police, their powerful role of control can be inferred in the third verse.
In the third and final stanza, Lívia Natália notes that, while the negridianal meridian is invisible, blacks feel in the flesh the consequences of overstepping the boundaries imposed by the dominant white elite. Pain is interwoven between the verses. And anger, too.
There is a negridianal meridian in our lives,
destroying them in a treacherous manner,
the line is indeed invisible:
but burns on the backs
in blood-red tracks,
the track-blade of these absurd lines that you draw
while I don’t see them.
To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and to learn more about the work of Lívia Natália de Souza, go to my Poetry Corner June 2020.