Collection of ‘Street Corner Poetry’ Launched in Rio de Janeiro’s City of God

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“Art is salvation? And then what?” challenges Deborah Fadiga in her poem “Art is Salvation!” The poem appears on page 53 of Street Corner Poetry: Collection Volume 0, a 242-page book that brings together 38 authors from favelas, alleyways, and street corners across the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Two years in the making, the book was born long before assuming its physical form—which, by the way, is beautiful. The Street Corner Poetry movement blossomed over time—eight years, to be precise—writing history and transforming it in the interstices of City of God, a favela in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro.

It has transpired in ways both small—competing with songs playing on jukeboxes at the bars along Marechal Miguel Salazar Road—and large, at the Tom Zé Bar earning applause and respect upon reciting one’s life in the ear of someone who, until that moment, could only feel rhythm in the icy cold glass filled with warm beer.

As though it were nothing out of the ordinary, on Thursday, January 24, the poetry movement introduced the world to Collection Volume 0 on a fiery night full of flaming words at the City of God House of Culture. The book features a red cover with a timeless collage design, with text on the dust jacket by poet and novelist Jessé Andarilho that reads: “I’m someone who discovered myself as a poet through Street Corner Poetry. I would arrive at poetry readings and recite some lines; people would clap to the beat and it was poetry. I believed in myself and became a poet.”

The launch of Street Corner Poetry was organized in four parts, beginning with a discussion. The conversation revolved around a constructive question: “How can reading and writing poetry be stimulated in the peripheries?” The discussion was mediated by Wellington França—co-founder of the Street Corner Poetry movement—who opened the night alongside writers Letícia Brito of Slam das Minas; Jessé Andarilho, a member of the Marginow project; Yolanda Soares; and Anderson Quack, a filmmaker and social activist from City of God and co-founder of Central Única das Favelas (CUFA). The poets shared their journeys and reflections with the audience members in attendance, focusing on the importance of grassroots and community movements and collectives for the social development of favelas that are excluded from the exercise of the most fundamental rights—human rights.

The event went far beyond small talk: it was a gathering of free souls. Dona Tuca, 85—a black actress, self-taught visual artist, poet, singer, and songwriter (what an incredible woman!), City of God resident, and co-founder of the Street Corner Poetry movement—interrupted the discussion to make a revolutionary intervention. Microphone in hand, she recited:

[I am] Anaíde dos Santos Muniz—also known as Tuca, “The Diamond.” I’m not going to talk; I don’t want to talk. I want to share my poetry:

“I beat my chest with Pride
And tell you I am happy.
You say that I am Black…
Black is my root.
I am timber, I am wood.
I am ember, I am charcoal.
I am daughter of a Black Nation.
I am daughter and
I am Nation.”

No words could follow this recitation by Dona Tuca, “The Diamond” of City of God—perhaps only artistic expression. Inspired by the vitality of those who teach us life lessons, between songs and verses, the event continued with book signings. In one area of the space at the House of Culture, musician Pedro Carvalho shared some of his songs and poets recited their works.

Marginal literature from the peripheries, such as the mimeograph generation of the 1970s, has healed the body that is Brazilian culture. It has transformed Rio’s reality without asking for recognition. It has already gained recognition, though sometimes it is born from the fissures, perforations (!), and holes pierced by “762 assault rifle bullets manufactured in Belgium,” recounts the unsettling poem “European Domination” (page 205) by Vivi Salles—a sociologist, poet, resident of City of God, co-founder of Street Corner Poetry, and the organizer of the poetry collection.

With this release, the Street Corner Poetry movement marks an important new chapter for City of God. The favela is known worldwide for the violence that is said to be its defining characteristic in creative productions and narratives ranging from film to the daily news. Let’s recall when a Rio de Janeiro Military Police helicopter crashed to the ground in an area of City of God two years ago (later explained as an emergency landing), taking the lives of four policemen.

The moments that followed resembled a real battle scene, full of horror and entire days of panic. From a distance, it was easy to view local residents—buried in the chaos, accused of crimes they did not commit—as fragile, powerless, and incapable of recreating the flow of life through art at the time.

However, resilient and wise from over fifty years in the trenches, the favela continued to rise day after day, reinventing its existence and rewriting the fate imposed upon it. For this reason, Collection Volume 0—the first work written and produced by the Street Corner Poetry movement, published by Corner Editors—traces the present and future of a community that, at its core, bears the violence of existence.

Peace without voice is fear
Voice without fear
Is empty struggle
War for money
Is tyranny
Action in silence
Is struggle without inspiration
Without rage
– Poetry of Sub-Guerilla Life by Wellington França, Page 215

The next launch by Street Corner Poetry and Corner Editors is a book of poems by Edison Veoca on February 12 at 6pm at Folha Seca Bookstore (Rua do Ouvidor 37, Centro).