Angélica Freitas whips up a powerful tonic for even the most stubborn case of anxiety of influence: one cup Rilke, a pinch Gertrude Stein (farting in the tub), two tablespoons Poundian cadences, a dash of Marianne Moore, and toasted Blake, with five hundred hollygolightlies thrown in for good measure, the whole lot shaken not stirred
Angélica Freitas, Rilke Shake, Trans. by Hilary Kaplan, Phoneme Media, 2015.
Rilke Shake’s title, a pun on milkshake, means in Portuguese just what it does in English. With frenetic humor and linguistic innovation, Angélica Freitas constructs a temple of delight to celebrate her own literary canon. In this whirlwind debut collection, first published in Portuguese in 2007, Gertrude Stein passes gas in her bathtub, a sushi chef cries tears of Suntory Whisky, and Ezra Pound is kept “insane in a cage in pisa.” Hilary Kaplan’s translation is as contemporary and lyrical as the Portuguese-language original, a considerable feat considering the collection’s breakneck pace.
“In this brilliant translation by Hilary Kaplan, Angélica Freitas shakes and blends the influences of her Brazilian forbears with international figures like Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, and Mallarmé. Her poetry possesses an essential lightness that Italo Calvino believed to be the basis of good writing, along with quickness, exactitude, and visibility. This lightness brings momentum, weight, and wit. In Freitas’ “Cassino Beach,” for instance: “you prefer the raw / to the refined: / mouth oyster tongue / lake moon place / landscape with pine trees / in the background. you always / preferred the raw / to the reel, insomnia to / the barber of Seville…” Kaplan presents the dance and humor of Freitas’ Portuguese with a similar exactitude. No fabled saudade here, but the sound of an ocarina underwater in the Orinoco.” —Paul Hoover
“Wry, painfully funny and moving. Kaplan’s translation captures the formal invention and deadpan beauty of the original perfectly.” —Sasha Dugdale
Rilke shake (São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2007), a collection of 45 short poems, is the first book by the young Brazilian poet Angélica Freitas. The title, a pun on milkshake (which in Brazil’s vernacular means just what it does in English), indicates the book’s contents: poetry approached as a shake of languages, words, canonical tradition and a measure of delight, whirred in postmodernity’s ironic blender. The often first-person poems grapple with shaking off the influence of not only Rilke but also Shakespeare (the pun is not lost), Stein, Keats, Moore, Bishop, Bashō, Blake, Brodsky and Pound. In “não consigo ler os cantos” (“i can’t manage to read the cantos”) the speaker, established as female at the beginning of the book, asks the revolutionary and rhetorical question, “vamos nos livrar de ezra pound?/…/vamos nos livrar de mariane moore?” (“shall we free ourselves from ezra pound?/…/shall we free ourselves from marianne moore?”). Since she can’t shake free of these titans, she shakes them together with everything else real and imagined from her life—family, languages learned or overheard, travels, dreams, homeland, and so on—to see if anything tasty results.
Born 8 April 1973 in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, Freitas studied journalism at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in Porto Alegre, then worked as a reporter in São Paulo. She now lives in Pelotas and Holland, where she is translating poetry and working on a second book. She has published poems in the Brazilian journal Inimigo Rumor, and in Diário de Poesía (Argentina) and aguasfurtadas (Portugal). A translation of “love (collage)” appeared in Issue 6 (Spring 2007), dedicated to Brazilian poetry, of the American poetry journal Aufgabe; translations into English of “What is a tschüsstschüss?” (“o que é um baibai?”) and “Love, a collage” can be found in the German online art magazine Hilda. Freitas’ work is also included in the anthology Cuatro poetas recientes de Brasil (Buenos Aires: Black & Vermelho, 2006). She co-edits the Brazilian poetry journal Modo de Usar & Co (in print and online at revistamododeusar.blogspot.com) and keeps her own blog, tome uma xícara de chá (loop.blogspot.com).
Despite Freitas’ web presence, which places her in the global network of innovative poets who have made a home online, I discovered Rilke shake last summer the old-fashioned way: browsing the shelves at a bookstore, Porto Alegre’s venerable Livraria Cultura. Rilke shake is one of about eight books in the Série Bolso (Pocket Series) of new poetry published by Cosac Naify.(1) This text, and the series it is part of, arrive at a moment when small-press publishing of poetry is taking off in Brazil, and poetry magazines and collectives are being newly formed.
It is difficult to say now exactly where Rilke shake, a brand-new work, might fit into literary history, Brazilian or global. When it comes to Brazilian literature, Ricardo Domeneck, Freitas’ sole English-language reviewer, warns away from placing her “into a literary system, canon, history addicted to the linear,” insisting instead that “Publishing in a Brazilian poetic context that follows critical axioms which have been frozen for the last decades, based on abstract concepts [such] as ‘precision’ or ‘concreteness’ as values in themselves, her poems establish a new path for a relationship with a non-authoritarian tradition.” Domeneck’s description of Concrete poetry as “abstract” is comically paradoxical, but he rightly points out that Freitas breaks from the legacy of the Concretists all too visible in some Brazilian poetry today. She certainly favors concrete nouns and imagery, albeit arranged in what appears as casually non-visual free verse. Concrete images subtly and brilliantly double for the highly abstract ideas, such as identity, phenomenology, and the self, which abound in this work. - HILARY KAPLAN
Rilke Shake is a delicate collection of sparse contemporary poems commenting lightly and incisively on life on planet earth. The title is perfect, alerting the reader to the fact that the work will be irreverent and humorous with wordplay and anachronistic comment on the classical poetry canon. Freitas has a distinctive style: sonic wordplay, devoid of punctuation. Kaplan has retained the original style with great fealty, often making delicate and informed decisions on how best to render the work in poetic English and retain the humor of the Brazilian Portuguese original. The phrase “eu penso no stradivárius/en nos vários empregos” is translated as “I think of the stradivarius and the sundry and various” (27), retaining the lovely chime of “stradivarius” and “various.” In the poem “love me,” Kaplan translates “na mesa uma gérbera dá o último/ suspiro” as “on the table a gerber daisy/expires” (37), retaining the important line break achieved by the half-beat before “expires” with its attendant suspense. Kaplan uses the term “gerber daisy” instead of “gerbera” in order to retain the rhythm necessary to get the line break before “expires,” as Freitas has done. At other times Kaplan knows when she is beaten, as when she transliterates “as bruxas de bruxelas” as “the witches of brussels” (51), not even trying to approximate the lovely etymological similarity between “bruxas” (witches) and “bruxelas” (Brussels) in the Brazilian Portuguese. At other times Kaplan uses alliteration in English to mimic Freitas’ Portuguese. An example is in the poem “casino”: Freitas writes, “você prefere o cru/ao creme,” rendered by Kaplan as “you prefer the raw to the refined” (53), which is nicely and delicately done.
There is a satirical suite of poems in the center of the collection in which literary luminaries of the early twentieth century appear in different locations in Paris. Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, and Rainer Maria Rilke all make cameo appearances. Freitas imitates the distinctive style of Stein at times here, in an ironic but loving way. There is the tender anatomical dissection of a love relationship between two women in numbered stanzas in “siobhan 4” and the wonderful “ringue pôlifonicos” (polyphonic ringtones), which is very current in its content and manic in its execution.
This is a clever and profound collection, written with a light hand. It is translated as cleverly and as lightly. - Natasha Dennerstein
ma’am, do you have a mallarmé in your house?
do you know how many pessoas die every year
in accidents with mallarmé?
statute of mallarmamento
In Rilke Shake, the Brazilian poet, Angélica Freitas, whips up a powerful tonic for even the most stubborn case of anxiety of influence: one cup Rilke, a pinch Gertrude Stein (farting in the tub), two tablespoons Poundian cadences, a dash of Marianne Moore, and toasted Blake, with five hundred hollygolightlies thrown in for good measure, the whole lot shaken not stirred.
Freitas’ antic irreverence and exuberant poetic license are contagious but don’t come at the expense of depth. Even as she “smooth[es] the rough edges of farce,” life’s sharper blades intrude in her poems as heartbreak, poverty, loneliness, depression. In family sells it all, a litany of loss, sacrifice, and shady survival strategies ends as expected. “family sells it all / for next to nothing / . . . you know how it goes.” Even the luxury of perfect teeth are no match for market forces: “perfect teeth, listen up: / you’re not going to get anywhere.” Gathering rosebuds or reading great literature is fine as far as it goes, but an empty stomach will have its way.
ah, yes, shakespeare is very nice, but beets, chicory, and watercress?Tragedy and heartbreak can strike at any time, even lunchtime, say, as in boa constrictor.
and rice and beans, and collard greens?
. . .
life’s tough, perfect teeth.
but eat, eat all you can,
and forget this chat,
and dig in.
the creak crack
of bones breaking
a single tear escaping
it was like love
the lack of air
blood rising to the head
where history begins.Translator Hilary Kaplan won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant to translate these poems. She has done the grant and Freitas’ poems justice, capturing the many shifts in tone in and between the lines, from playful to wry to sardonic to pathetic, even sentimental, to deadpan and back to playful, sometimes within a single poem. For all of Freitas’ lyric clowning, it’s clear she takes poetry too seriously not to dismantle it and use it to her own purposes.
you needYes, reader, leap in with both feet, leap in often. But don’t take just my advice, listen to the statute of dismallarmament—“be a patriot, surrender your mallarmé. olé”—and order a Rilke Shake today.
to live in the ellipses
need to dissect
the frog of poetry—
don’t abolish the pond.
leaper, leap in
to the great leap.
Angélica Freitas (b. 1973) is the author of Rilke shake (Cosac Naify, 2007) and Um útero é do tamanho de um punho (Cosac Naify, 2012). Her graphic novel, Guadalupe (2012), published by Companhia das Letras, was illustrated by Odyr Bernardi. Freitas’s poems have been translated and published in German, Spanish, Swedish, Romanian, and English. She was awarded a Programa Petrobras Cultural writing fellowship in 2009. Freitas co-edits the poetry journal Modo de Usar & Co. and lives in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.