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Afro-Brazilian Poet Ryane Leão
Photo Credit: Poet’s Facebook Page

My Poetry Corner March 2022 features the poem “Identity” (Identidade) from the 2017 debut poetry collection Everything in Her Shines and Burns: Poems of Struggle and Love (Tudo Nela Brilha e Queima: Poemas de Luta e Amor) by Afro-Brazilian poet Ryane Leão. A lesbian and English language teacher, born in 1989 in Cuiabá, capital of the Center-West State of Mato Grosso, Ryane moved to São Paulo where she studied literature at the Federal University of São Paulo. Considered one of the most representative militants of Brazilian poetry today, Ryane’s poems speak mainly about female empowerment, social inequality, and the struggle against racism.

Influenced by her poetry-loving parents, Ryane grew up with a fascination for literature and began writing as a child. But she never saw herself in the stories of Brazil’s famous poets, mostly white males. That changed when she moved to São Paulo. With exposure to poetry by black women, she discovered another type of poetry that spoke to her life experience.

Her journey to penning her own stories were strewn with shards of glass, as shared in the following autobiographical poem:

how many times my mother sat on the edge of the bed
and helped me remove the shards of glass from my feet
and said few would deserve my love
that the world would hurt me because I was born
with too much heart
that I had to stop being so good
or I would have nothing left
beyond the shards
that she pulled out
with care and patience
planting flowers
in their place

When her debut collection was released in 2017, Ryane had already garnered thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram where, since 2007, she shares her short, autobiographical verses. With sales of more than 40,000 copies, her first book became a national bestseller and propelled her into the spotlight of Brazil’s literary world. She attributes her success to connecting with the lives of other women, especially voiceless black women.

During her interview with Natália Coelho of Leituras da Bel in August 2019, the poet noted: “Every story will have many sides, so we must be willing to tell our sides and listen. So that we are willing to talk, confide, listen, and know ourselves as constellations and great women, that our processes of identification will permeate the pain, but are more celebratory than painful.” She writes:

I am a heap of
constellations
shining and burning
but not everyone
knows how to see
or just sees the part that burns
or just sees the part that shines

Much pain burns throughout her collection, but through the missteps there is learning, transformation, and growth:

this business is not for me
to be immutable
I want to change
between my missteps
to transform myself
to recognize my instincts

Transformation demanded saying no to abusive relationships in her life:

you did not want to stay
and this time I did not want to insist
I am tired of allowing others
to splinter my soul
in the mirror
I saw myself whole for the first time
in years
to discover myself complete
I had to let go of a lot of people

In distancing herself from those who had only caused her pain, she declares: I am deconstructing myself / I am a universe / expanding itself. Lest we forget, she cautions other women: do not forget / the reason / for any of your / departures.

She asserts in another poem about the new woman she had become:

who knew me in other times
do not know me now
because when they broke me
my pieces were arranged in new places
more beautiful and stronger
to fit themselves into this woman who writes today
with steady fists and no guilt
of existing as she wishes

She reminds us: there is only revolution / when there is love / for ourselves.

To find our power as women, we need only look at the women who came before us: look at all those who came / before us / there is no secret / the power of being a woman / runs through your veins / we are fortresses. Connecting with this power is highlighted in the featured poem, “Identity”:

it was a black woman and writer
with skin and soul like mine
who taught me about volcanoes and bridles and restraints
about the turmoil within the bosom
and about the importance of being the protagonist
never second plane
if you place your hand between your breasts
you will feel the traces of our ancestors
we are the continuity
of those who came before us

In her interview with TPM Magazine in October 2019, Ryane stressed that every story matters. “I hope that other women tell their stories, that it is a continuity of voice… That we continue telling our story until this leads to a structural change.”

To read the complete featured poem, “Identity,” in English and its original Portuguese, and to learn more about Ryane Leão and her work, go to my Poetry Corner March 2022.

NOTE: Excerpts of poems by Ryane Leão translated by Rosaliene Bacchus.