For Easter Monday A Post from Easter Monday Six Years Ago! A God Who Eats Words – The Devotional poems of Adélia (Luzia) Prado (Freitas)

Brazilian Poet Adelia Prado

Brazilian Poet Adélia Prado (1935 – )

While writing a blog for today I came across a reference to the fabulous Brazilian poet Adélia Prado and then went searching for my blogs on her. And found this post from Easter Monday six years ago and thought too perfect, must use it again! Prado was acknowledged in 2014 with A Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Poetry Award from the Griffin Trust which suggests her celebrated poetic standing in the world. Below my 2014 Easter Monday post:

“On this Easter Monday it seems right to consider devotional poetry – poetry, whether or not explicitly religious, that reaches out to a presence, something transcendent, something that speaks to the eternal. A poetry where the “holy”, the “unspeakable” enters in.

I realize this is a huge topic and I don’t want to get lost in it. I want to highlight  poems by the Brazlilian poet,  Adélia Prado (1935 – ) , a mystic and devotional poet if there ever was one. (Click here for my previous post on Prado in 2012.) In the title I have given Prado’s full name!

Here is a first taste of her latest poems in English. Prado, this woman described by the celebrated Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)  as a housewife in Minais Gerais ( the province where she lives) writing verses dictated to her by Saint Francis.

Eternal Life

Half a century.
The weight of that word used to send me straight to bed.
No more. I’m gathering wisdom.
Alchemists aren’t law breakers —
sure, they’re naïve sometimes like the saints,
believing in stones, fish seen in dreams,
signs written on the sky.
Where is God?
April is reborn out in the cosmos,
in the most perfect silence.
Inside and outside of me.

Adélia Prado, translated by Ellen Dore Watson, from Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press, 2013

Prado’s second book of poems Ex Voto, was translated into English by the American poet Ellen Watson and published in 2013 year. This book is a treasure. Not just for Watson’s translations that come so alive on the page, that bring such clarity to Prado’s loose-limbed yet muscular poems, her sure-footed shifts of tone, but for the introduction by Russian American poet Ilya Kaminsky. It’s a prose paean to Prado’s craft but also a primer on devotional poetics.

Some argue that the act of poetry itself, whether or not the subject seems to touch the numinous or spiritual, springs out of “mystery, the “otherworldly”. Pura Lopez Colume, in her address to the Griffin Poetry Awards in 2013 year says this explicitly. She believes poetry shouldn’t be included in the field of literature – not only because of its direct and immovable relationship with the spiritual, the depths of being connected to the otherworldly, but because of the simple fact that it doesn’t embody fiction. You do not look for poetry. Poetry looks for you. Poetry happens to whoever is writing it. And then it is rewritten inside the reader, whose vision will remain forever transformed.

Colume earlier in that address states that even as child I knew there was an absolute link between poetry and prayer. The American Asian poet Li-Young Lee goes even further:

I think poetry provides a very important service. It uncovers our deepest identity. When we read a poem, that’s what we get – our deepest identity, who we are fully. Religion is a path to this uncovering, but it’s not as immediate. Poetry provides a very deep, immediate service, like a church service. It is proof of contact with God, proof that contact with God is possible, and not through a middleman. Read Emily Dickinson. Through all her quarrels she affirms this.

Even though it does not appear explicitly spiritual or devotional here is Prado’s poem The Mystical Rose which for me is radiant with an implicit spiritual sensibility when she equates the act of writing as a way to cheat time; how it has the power to resurrect her father; and even in how she describes the beauty of a basket of flowers. In this poem as in a number of her others Prado mentions poetry. For her it is inextricably connected to the transcendent, the transformative. It feeds her belief, declares her doubt.

The Mystical Rose

The first time
I was conscious of form,
I said to my mother:
“Donna Armanda has a basket in her kitchen
where she keeps tomatoes and onions”
and so began fretting that even lovely things
don’t last forever,
until one day I wrote:
“It was here in this room that my father died,
here that he wound the clock
and rested his elbows
on what he thought was a windowsill
but was the threshold of death.”
I saw that words grouped a certain way
make it possible to live without
the things they described,
my father was coming back, indestructible.
It was as if someone painted a picture
of Dona Armanda’s basket and said:
“Now you can eat the fruit.”
There was order in the world
— where did it come from?
And why does order — which is joy itself,
and bathes in a different light
than the light of day —
make the day sad?
We must protect the world
from time’s corrosion, we must cheat time itself.
And so I keep writing:
“It was here in this room that my father died…
O Night, come on down,
your blackness can’t erase the memory.”
That was my first poem.

Adélia Prado, ibid

Poetry as a way to fight time’s dominion and death. I like that. This prayer against blackness. Make no mistake these poems are prayers. Of despair, of disorientation, of lament, of praise. Just like the remarkable poems in the book we call the Psalms in the Old Testament Bible. And they have some of their saltiness, their eros, their bite.

Poetry is a sacred act for Prado. In an interview in Bomb Magazine she once said: I found God more deeply in poetry than in doctrine. I realized that the poetic experience is in fact deeply sacred and religious.

When the interviewer asked her about readers with faith her answer was direct: Well, the reader who doesn’t care about religion will consider the religious content to be only poetic. He’ll say, “You are talking about God, but I don’t care about God, I care about poetry.” That’s okay; you do what you want. But it’s not like that for me: the poetic experience is sacred.

Here is a poem that comes out of her sense that her poems come from the divine. I can certainly relate to the experience of a “something other” not me, writing my poems.

The Poet Wearies

I’ve had it with being Your herald.
Everyone has a voice,
why am I the one who has to get on board
with no say about where we’re headed?
Why not proclaim the wondrous woof of looms
Yourself with a voice that echoes
to the four corners of the earth?
The world’s seen so much progress
and you still insist on travelling salesmen
going door-to-door on horseback.
Check out this jackknife, people,
take a good look, ma’am, its magic:
slices and screws, tweezes and dices —
a whole set of tools in one!
Dear God,
let me work in the kitchen.
I’m not a pedlar, or a scribe,
just let me make your bread.
Child, says the Lord,
all I eat is words.

Adélia  Prado, ibid

Who writes our poems? Who indeed?

I relish the range in Prado’s work. Her’s is no prissy spirituality – Jesus, whom she calls Jonathon, is real flesh and blood in her poems – a lover. Her’s is a spirituality anchored in the earth, her flesh. She can even write a poem in praise of her asshole and another in praise of feces. She can be ecstatic in fearless belief or mired in despair, in fearful disbelief.

Here’s her pre-dawn cry of despair:

The Dark of Night

I’m singled out by flashes
embedded in half-sleep,
pre-dawn, Gethsemane hour.
these visions are raw and clear,
sometimes peaceful,
sometimes pure terror
without the bone structure
daylight provides.
The soul descends to hell,
death throws its banquet.
Until everything else wakes up
and I can doze,
the Devil eats his fill.
Not-God grazes on me.

Adélia Prado, ibid

Here is her ecstatic mystic’s voice:

The Battle

I lost my fear of myself. Bye-bye,
I’m off to colder climes, after Jonathan.
This is how we should live:
intoxicated by flight
on a course to certain death.
I love Joanthan.
There you have it: the monotonous, diarrheal subject.
“He wants to see you,” said a voice in a dream.
And thus was unleashed the forms in which God hides.
You could worship tufts of grass, sand,
and not discover where oboes come from.
Joanathan wants to see me,
so he will.
The Devil howls, handcuffed down in hell,
while I
tear my body from my clothes.

Adélia Prado, ibid

I am not the devout believer Prado is. But when I read her poems something enters in. This world becomes more than this world. It becomes out of this world. I am grateful to her and to Ellen Watson who continues to bring her poems to us in English.”

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