From February 11 to 24 of this year the Fundação Gregório de Matos (FGM), the cultural sector of Salvador da Bahia’s local government, sponsored the program “Poesia em Trânsito,” or Poetry in Motion. During this time, twenty poets and street performers presented over a thousand poetry performances on municipal buses, in public squares, and at major transit stations.
The performers were culled from various poetry collectives throughout the city by organizer Tiago Oliveiro Nascimento. Oliveiro is a poet, street performer, and member of Coletivo Poesia Além das 7 Praças (CPA7P), Poetry Beyond the 7 Squares Collective. CP7AP is a network of poets and art educators that perform in public spaces throughout the city such as municipal buses, squares, schools, hospitals, and universities.
Another poetry collective whose members participated in the February event is Pense Poesia (Think Poetry), led by street performer Pareta Calderasch. Calderasch circulates throughout city buses and public squares; he also frequents a number of the city’s poetry saraus. He is known for leaving poetry-filled Post-its on public transportation and in public restrooms for the unsuspecting passerby to take with them as souvenirs.
In the same vein, a particularly innovative poetry project was launched in July of last year by Artdoor, a Bahian media company that showcases its campaigns on public transportation. “Palavras Passageiras,” or Passenger Words, presented a two-sided laminated sheet of paper hung on the backs of bus seats. One side had advertisements from the company’s clients and the other featured a poem from one of fifteen Bahian poets. There were seventy-five poems in total.
Of course, even before the Poesia em Trânsito event in February, there were street artists and poets performing on Salvador’s city buses and in its public squares. Beyond the twenty poets that were selected for Poesia em Trânsito, there are over a hundred street artists currently performing and reciting poetry through the city. Some members of the diverse poetry and cultural collectives mentioned above have been reciting poetry in these public venues for more than fifteen or twenty years. The FGM-sponsored event was a way of officially recognizing and rewarding the work that these poets have done for decades.
Tiago and his wife, Estrela Rocha, continue to perform on the city buses under the name “Poesia em Trânsito.” Their poetry performances are their main source of income and they trade shifts so that someone is always home with their toddler son. They each perform on approximately ten to fifteen buses every day. During these performances, they recite their own work or the poetry of famous Brazilian poets such as Castro Alves, Cecilia Meireles, and Mario Quintana. Instead of asking for payment for their performances, they accept donations for livretos, or booklets, of poetry by these famous writers, that they distribute to the crowd. Each livreto contains a short biography of the writer and three or four poems. When I visited them at their home in the Pelourinho, a three-story pink colonial building with high ceilings and wooden walls, they had a box full of these prepared livretos ready to go.
Salvador’s historic center, the Pelourinho—known for its baroque churches and colorful casas—is the city’s number one tourist destination, but it’s also home to artists and street performers like Tiago and Estrela. While the areas of the Pelourinho that tourists frequent underwent a massive restoration from 1992 to 1993, many of its backstreets and alleys were excluded from the makeover, and many buildings were left abandoned. As part of the movement “Ocupação Sem Teto” (Homeless Occupation, or literally Roofless Occupation), Tiago and Estrela are members of a squatting community. They’ve occupied a formerly abandoned building on Rua do Pesso for the past seven years, along with eight other families of artists that include poets, artisans, capoeiristas, and a Candomblé Mãe de Santo. With the money from the FGM, Tiago wants to build a library in the first-floor hallway.
When the poets perform on buses, they are essentially giving a history and literature lesson to the commuters. Estrela told me that she frequently recites poems by Castro Alves. She distributes the livreto of his poetry, explains the parts of his poetry that may be more difficult to understand, and recounts his history as one of Brazil’s most important poets. These poets and street performers, much like the ones who work with Grupo Ágape and Sarau da Onça, are looking to disseminate literature and poetry in quotidian life as a distraction from the ubiquitous violence that permeates social and home life in Salvador. Tiago’s opening line when he enters a bus is “A literatura pode transformar a sociedade,” or “Literature can transform society.”
Tiago’s own writings deal with the reality of contemporary Bahian society, social education, the Bahian identity, racial and gender prejudices, as well as love and romantic relationships. He is likely best know for his poem “A Incrível Estória de Zé o Gato Preto da Sorte” (The Incredible Story of Zé: The Black Cat of Good Luck) which examines how popular superstitions, such as black cats and black magic, and everyday idioms, like black sheep or black market, are unconsciously and deeply entrenched in our views of race. The Incredible Story of Zé is currently in production to become an animated film, a project spearheaded by Abel Marcelino, illustrator of the Zé livreto, and Tabuleiro Produções, a Bahia-based cultural production company. The film is set to be released in September 2014.
Poesia em Trânsito garnered Tiago, Estrela, and their poetic compatriots well-deserved recognition and fame throughout the city. During the last weekend of April, they attended a forum on the state of culture in Bahia, held in Simões Filho, a city in the metropolitan area of Salvador, where they had the opportunity to speak with the Secretary of Education. Their hope is to now take the “Poesia em Trânsito” project all over Brazil, and then perhaps to other countries.