Elizabeth Bishop: “Brazil, January 1, 2015” or “Manuelzinho:?

May 1, 2015

The Table of Contents, the print anthology as a finite, bounded object — they loom large.   While they do that, though, this blog is going to hold out for a little longer, not going there yet.   (And, for the sake of company, Jordan Brower, coeditor of the anthology, will also be airing his perplexities and uncertainties.)

So, still very much a toss-up for Bishop.

What I love about “Brazil, January 1, 1502″ — an initial lightness of tone that I almost don’t recognize, as if Brazil had indeed alienated her, made it all right for her to be light:  “big leaves, little leaves, and giant leaves,/ blue, blue-green, and olive..”   Very far away from the title, it seems.   But then the distance slowly diminishes, with the rocks “threatened from underneath by moss/ in lovely hell-green flames,/ attacked above/ by scaling-ladder vines, oblique and neat,/ “one leaf yes and one leaf no’ (in Portuguese).”

Such a strange way of telling that story.   No one who reads the poem can forget it.  What I love about “Manuelzinho” is that it doesn’t have that terrible strangeness, happy just to do some straightforward scolding: “You starve/ your horse and yourself/ and your dogs and family./ Among endless variety,/ you eat boiled cabbage stalks.”

Two completely different worlds – and not only because one poem re-stages 1502 while the other stays put in the here and now.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
This entry was posted in Americas, Brazil, Colonization, Food in literature, Global South, indigenous communities, Latin America, Poetry, Portuguese, Racial violence, Twentieth century literature, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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