Maré Cheia Organizes Itinerant Poetry Battle in Maré’s Favelas

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On Sunday, June 30, the third edition of the Maré Cheia Slam poetry battle took place at the Parque União Skate Park in the Complexo da Maré favelas, in Rio’s North Zone. Sillas Alves Nascimento, a resident of nearby Nova Holanda known in the local rap community as SL MC, was the first to arrive and sign up for the afternoon battle. “I always wanted to do slam because the lyrics are the most important,” Sillas said. “In rap, people also pay attention to the lyrics, but it’s more about finding the right beat.”

Little by little, crowds began to arrive, filling the square’s benches. Karoline Rodrigues, a resident of Vila do João, another of Maré’s favelas, said that it was her first time at the skate park and was the second slam competition that she had attended in Maré: “I always go to the Slam das Minas [women’s poetry slam]. I really like it. Then, when I saw this initiative here in Maré, I said to myself: ‘I have to go, I have to go!'” Rodrigues recalled that a work meeting had kept her from watching the first Maré Cheia Slam in March, held in Nova Holanda, but she caught the second edition held in nearby Vila do Pinheiro in April. “Usually, events happen in Nova Holanda, but in Pinheiro there isn’t anything. I said, ‘We really have to occupy this space,'” Rodrigues remembers. “So I think this idea of bringing the slam to the rest of Maré is really cool,” she said.

The event logo created by Matheus de Araújo, a poet and the slam’s organizer, shows a map of the favelas that make up Maré. “I tried to find something representative of all of [Maré’s] 140,000 residents,” said Araújo. “I first thought about stilt houses, since that’s how Maré started out. But I wanted something more current. Then I got the idea of the map of Maré because it’s really emblematic. Maré is a strategic point in the city of Rio—whoever comes in or out [of Rio] has to pass by Maré.”

Also on the day’s agenda was the launch of the newspaper Literatura Comunica! (“Literature Communicates!”) in celebration of the project’s six-year anniversary. The literary newspaper highlights reading groups organized around the work of writer Carolina de Jesus, compiling articles and testimonials, most of them authored by residents of Maré, Cerro Corá (in the South Zone) and Vila Autódromo (in the West Zone) who participated in activities related to the project.

Gabrielle Alves, a resident of Vila do Pinheiro, wrote the article “Education and Racism in the Work of Carolina Maria de Jesus,” featured in the newspaper’s first edition: “This was my first [published] article. So when I started, it was a huge challenge, a real battle, because I’m not used to this. I had written this text two years ago and when I read it again to publish, I felt like I could have done it in another way. I found it interesting because I had thought that I hadn’t evolved, that I hadn’t changed much. But at that moment, I realized that I really had evolved. I was able to take on other kinds of perceptions and to express myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before,” Alves recalls. “So, I wrote it a second time and felt more prepared when it came to constructing the text. The harmony that I had with Carolina de Jesus’ book helped. I think it was simpler, easier, because her language inspires our language as well.”

Gabriel da Matta, a teacher from the Machado de Assis pré-vestibular college entrance exam preparatory course in Morro da Providência, in Rio’s Port Region, told of his experience organizing reading groups with two other teachers in occupied schools in Rio in 2016: “Looking back at the pictures and remembering the events that happened, the schools where we worked… in Rio, Niterói, and São Gonçalo [in Greater Rio]… Even if it wasn’t a long time ago, it was a memory exercise too, it was really interesting.”

After the distribution of the newspaper, Maré Cheia slam masters Araújo and Rejane Barcelos introduced the competitors of the third edition: SL MC and Profeta MC, both of whom are Maré residents. At the first edition of Maré Cheia, poet Valentine from Duque de Caxias in the Baixada Fluminense won. At the second, Dudu Neves from City of God in the West Zone took the crown.

“Searching for peace, breaking barriers, MARÉ CHEIA SLAM!” Rejane Barcelos chanted with the crowd.

The winner of the third battle was SL MC, who won the poetry book Maré Cheia by Araújo as an award, as well as a place in the Maré Cheia finals to be held in September at the Herbert Vianna Municipal Cultural Center in Maré. The winner of this final battle will serve as Maré Cheia’s nominee for Rio de Janeiro’s state poetry competition, Slam RJ.

In Rio de Janeiro, slam competitions began in 2013 and gained traction in 2014 when the Literary Festival of the Urban Periphery (FLUP) organized the first edition of the Rio Poetry slam under the curation of Roberta Estrela D’Alva. In 2008, after an exchange trip to the United States, where she got to know the poetry battles called “slams,” D’Alva started the first slam in Brazil, called ZAP! (Zona Autônoma da Palavra, or “Autonomous Words Zone”) in São Paulo’s Pompeia neighborhood. From then on, poetry slams began catching on around the country. This form of literary competition was created by Marc Smith in a white working-class Chicago neighborhood, as Roberta D’Alva recounts in the 2017 documentary Slam: Voz de Levante (“Slam: The Voice of Uprising”).

Maré jumped into the slam circuit on March 24, 2019 thanks to the work of Araújo, a Maré local: “I came up with the idea, but I don’t do it alone. There’s also Thais Ayomine, Isadora Gran, and Rejane Camelô, as well as Patrick Mendes, who has been taking pictures for us at every edition.”

The Rainha do Verso (“Verse Queen”) Rejane Barcelos was born in Itaperuna, in the interior of Rio state, and has been living for a year and a half in Vila do Pinheiro. Barcelos traces her poetry roots back to when she learned to read and write. She contributed to the Brutas Flores (“Raw Flowers”) anthology and has launched several “zines,” including Reza Forte (Pray Hard), which will launch at the Paraty International Literary Festival (FLIP) this year. “I’m a black woman. So, a black woman can’t dedicate herself to only one thing. I do many things: I’m a cleaner, I’m a street vendor, I study Arabic as an undergraduate student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and anything else that comes up. I like to dive too,” said Barcelos, who is also one of the organizers of the Maré Cheia Slam.

Barcelos also announced a street poetry course, a workshop based on the slam method. The course is now open for registration and will take place at the Maré Women’s Reference Center (CRMM) in Vila do João twice a week. Registration occurs directly at the CRMM or personally with Barcelos via social media.

Araújo, raised in Maré’s Rubens Vaz favela, also studies literature at UFRJ but says that his relationship with literature began long before college—from the street, from literary soirees, and from slams. In 2016, he participated in FLUPP Pensa (“FLUP Thinks”), a six-month program in which writers visited public schools to provide workshops for favela youth leading up to the festival, and in January 2018 published his first poetry book, Maré Cheia, at the Maré Arts Center (CAM). “It had everything to do with the process of learning about myself, about social and racial issues,” he said. “I launched my book at CAM, here in Maré, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is where I was born and this is what I talk about every time I carry my word to [perform in] other places. It was only fair that my first steps happen here too.”

After his book launch in Maré, Araújo showcased his work in other favelas and also at the 2018 International Literary Festival in Paraty (FLIP). The book is prefaced by slammer Mel Duarte and was published by Multifoco Publishers. “Maré Cheia started as a book, but it’s charged with a concept: we must be the ‘maré cheia‘ [high tide] and overflow the banks of society. It’s a metaphorical relationship and I wanted to bring this into the slam too,” Araújo said.

The skate park also hosts the Roda Cultural do Parque União (“Parque União Cultural Circle”), which has been creating a buzz for the last two years. André Luiz Vasconcelos, one of the organizers of the Roda Cultural, also attended the Maré Cheia Slam: “For me, it is an honor to see this here in Maré,” Vasconcelos said. “I have known Matheus for a long time. We studied in the same school for awhile, and it’s an honor to see him diving into the knowledge of poetry too,” he said.

The Roda Cultural used to take place every Friday but has been suspended due to a lack of sound equipment. The group, however, is still active, promoting community initiatives on the weekends to revitalize the square. The Maré Cheia Slam also has no sound equipment and has to be realized without microphones and speakers. Anyone looking to get to know the projects better and give a hand may contact them directly via social media: Slam Maré Cheia and Roda Cultural do Parque União.

Miriane Peregrino is a researcher, community journalist, and teacher with a master’s degree in literature from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). In 2013, she created the Literatura Comunica! (“Literature Speaks!”) literacy project, which is active in schools, community libraries, and cultural centers. Born in the interior of Rio state, she has worked in Maré since 2013.