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Brazilian Poet Sérgio Vaz
Photo Credit: Laysla Vasconcelos

My Poetry Corner March 2023 features the poem “A Dream” (Um Sonho) by Brazilian poet, writer, and cultural agitator Sérgio Vaz from his 2007 poetry collection Stone Collector (Colecionador de Pedras). He is known across Brazil as the “Poet of the Periphery.” Born in 1964 in Ladainha in the interior of the southeastern State of Minas Gerais, he was five years old when he moved with his family to Taboão da Serra in the outskirts of the City of São Paulo where he completed high school.

With his father’s encouragement, Sérgio developed a reading habit from an early age. He grew up roaming the back streets of the city, observing its cultural roots, habits, and customs. After an invitation to write lyrics for friends who had a musical band, he began exploring poetry. During an interview with Katia Marko and Fabiana Reinholz for Brasil de Fato in November 2021, Sérgio said:

“Poetry for me is when it comes down from the pedestal and kisses the feet of the community. I had to take off that elegant outfit, that sophisticated word. Poetry presented itself like this, in a humble way for me, fighting against the [military] dictatorship [1964-1985], against tyranny. That’s how I became interested in poetry, knowing that it could be an instrument of struggle through words.”

Taboão da Serra – Greater São Paulo – Brazil
Photo Credit: Zé Barretta

During the same interview, Sérgio said that his poem, “Stubbornness” (Teimosia), defines him a lot because one must be stubborn to be Brazilian today.

It is of no use
should they break my legs
pierce my eyes
or talk behind my back.
What sustains my body
are my ideas.
Arms uncrossed,
I have a brain with wings
and I am all heart.
If they should forbid me to walk on water,
I swim over the land.

While working in various sales and office jobs, Vaz took his first step as a marginal poet in 1988 with the self-publication of a joint poetry collection with Adrianne Muciolo. They printed an ambitious 500 copies. His third collection in 1994, with 1000 printed copies, gained attention with its launch in the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro. A reporter covering the event referred to Vaz as the “Poet of the Periphery,” a title the poet assumed with pride.

In 2000, Vaz founded Cooperifa (Cultural Cooperative of the Periphery)—a movement that transformed a bar on the outskirts of the south zone of São Paulo into a cultural center—where marginalized poets, rappers, and anyone interested in the arts met once weekly in the evenings from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. to read and promote their work. Later, the project expanded to promote poetry in schools of the poor working-class community. Other initiatives include Poetry Against Violence and the Cooperifa Cultural Exhibition.

Garage Bar in Taboão da Serra – Greater São Paulo – Brazil – Birthplace of Cooperifa in 2000
Photo Credit: Sérgio Vaz Facebook Page

“Since we [the poorest population] were denied literature and poetry for so long, we took it by storm,” Vaz told Pedro Alexandre Sanches during an interview for Opera Mundi in June 2022. “Peripheral literature represents us in a way that we didn’t see ourselves represented. That’s why black and peripheral literature is important.”

Through poetry, Sérgio Vaz found a way to transform his community and similar marginalized communities across the State of São Paulo and other states across Brazil.

“People who work, dream with their hands,” he told Katia Marko and Fabiana Reinholz. “I’m a practical guy, I have little theory, I like this thing of dreaming, of believing. And we need to share these dreams with people, even if there are few people who listen to us, who believe in what we say. But we try, through attitudes, to make other people embark on our dream. Maybe it’s a selfish, egocentric, vain way of relating to the world, making the world pay attention to what you dream, what you believe. More importantly, I found other people too who were socializing dreams and facing reality.”

The featured poem, “A Dream,” is such a poem of “socializing dreams.” It grabbed my attention. In a world seemingly intent on beginning a nuclear World War III, I share his dream.

Yesterday I dreamed your dream.

I dreamed that the soldiers,
singing and dancing,
freeing themselves of all evil,
appeared from everywhere
to keep vigil at the funeral
of all the arsenal
of nuclear warheads.

In the dream,
men were not slaves
neither of oneself, nor of others,
neither of political parties,
because money
had been killed
in the battle with love.

The children,
clove and cinnamon,
danced with the flowers,
as they were not hungry
chased stars
and when tired
they themselves became stars!

I dreamed
that women and men
did not have things, but feelings,
and in a sign of joy,
planted their prayers
not with open hands,
but arm in arm
with the miracle of the day.

And God – every little gesture of love –
did not frequent churches,
books or statues,
just hearts...

I dreamed your dream
not knowing that it was also mine.

I know that we are not alone. Now, it is up to each one of us to turn this dream into reality.

To read the featured poem “A Dream / Um Sonho” in its original Portuguese, and to learn more about Sérgio Vaz and his work, go to my Poetry Corner March 2023.

NOTE: Poems by Sérgio Vaz translated by Rosaliene Bacchus.