Writing in Portuguese

At the beginning of lockdown I was still more or less convinced that I would never write poetry again, and that the spoken word poems and songs were long gone, a passing and past phase never to be revisited. I had been grieving my loss of language for a while (more on that in another post), and couldn’t imagine having the fluency in English to write the way I wanted to any more. Playing with words and making them dance is one of the joys of writing spoken word poems but how can you do that if you can’t remember the words that used to come so easily when summoned?

At the same time, I’m very aware of my limitations in Portuguese and knew I didn’t have the fluency to write spoken word in Portuguese so assumed I couldn’t write anything at all. Looking back now it seems absurd that I would expect to be able to write in a second language to the same level as my writing in my mother tongue, when I have steadily progressed in English over a period of years by more or less constant practice (even where that wasn’t in the area of creative writing). The idea that I would be able to skip all the steps in a second language seems slightly laughable now. I’m sure there are people who are able to do that, but I have discovered that I am not one of them!

But I have discovered that I can still play with words in another language at a children’s playground sort of level. It reminds me of the chant “Você não me pega / Cara de meleca” (you can’t catch me / Snotface) which is pretty much exactly where I’m at!

It started when I wrote a poem in English and I was suddenly struck by the way it would also work in Portuguese, falling almost exactly within the existing rhythmic and rhyming structures. I asked a friend to check the Portuguese because I wanted to be able to share both poems at once and then carried on working on other things. I was really pleased that I had managed to translate my poem from English but still didn’t think I would be able to write a poem straight into Portuguese.

Two weeks afterwards I experienced a God-given epiphany as I was wrestling with increasing discouragement about the tiny number of people who were actually reading what I was writing. It suddenly made sense to me that if writing is a gift that God has given me, then the act of writing itself as a response to His generosity is already worship and He loves that. That revelation (described here), that the act of writing in itself is enough to please Him, freed me from worrying about how many people read what I write. Which is a wonderful point to have come to in my thinking because honestly it seems that the more excited I am about sharing something I write, the less anyone else is interested in reading it. So now I just need to make myself at home in the truth of writing what I feel called to write, and leaving it to God to get it to the people He wants to hear or read it.

And this really was a breakthrough moment for me as later that same week a short poem came to me in Portuguese. Around that time lots of short poems in English were floating around in my head as ideas and a few longer deeper ones too.

A few weeks later a comment my pastor made in Portuguese sparked off another very short poem straight into Portuguese. A month or so later another short poem in English begged to be translated into Portuguese. Although it seems those two poems were somewhat intertwined as making adjustments in Portuguese led to other improvements to the English version so I see that pair of poems in symbiotic terms really.

Bem-te-vi is the name of this bird. It’s like saying ‘I see you’. The caption reads something like ‘I see you, I almost didn’t see you’. It works better in Portuguese!

At this point my Brazilian bird poems were slowly forming themselves and I began helping them along. The bird poems were refreshing to assemble as I didn’t really need help with the grammar, and my husband was able to correct my major pronunciation errors before they went public.

Two weeks after the symbiotic pair was born I listened to a sermon preached by a friend and was struck by the lyricism of some of his phrasing. Those few lines that I borrowed from his sermon turned into a poem structured as ten sets of triplets, which hopefully works better in real life than is suggested here.

Then around a month after that I happened upon a tweet by Pheagan (a multilingual haikuist), who was looking for poets to contribute to a multilingual renga. I somewhat foolhardily volunteered to join in, despite having come very late to the haiku game (as in perhaps two months ago), and never having written any in Portuguese. I’m very glad I did contribute a ku to the renga, which featured Spanish, Japanese, French, Hindi, Portuguese, German, Welsh, Italian, Polish, Catalan and Urdu, and it was remarkable to see the renga grow across time zones, languages and seasons.

The renga was completed a few weeks ago and although I haven’t written any poetry in Portuguese since then, I’m no longer despairing that I will never write again and I’ll be keeping my eye out for other challenges that stretch me and keep me on my writing toes.

Have you had any epiphanies that have suddenly made sense of some things for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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