Raymond L. Bianchi is author of three books of poetry, Circular Descent, American Master and Immediate Empire. He was the co-editor of The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century in 2006 and a guest editor for Aufgabe Magazine’s Brazil issue where he translated 18 Brazilian poets. His new translation of Brazilian poet Sergio Medeiros’ book O Sexo Vegetal is due out in 2011 from University of New Orleans’ Press. He blogs at www.irasciblepoet.blogspot.com and he is publisher of Cracked Slab Books. Raymond took time out from his packed-to-the-brim schedule to talk to Gozamos about his work as a translator of Brazilian poetry.
How and when did you become interested in learning Portuguese?
I began to learn Portuguese in 1996 when I arrived in Brazil for a new job. There was this woman who I absolutely needed to talk to and she became my wife, Waltraud. I taught her English and she taught Portuguese so I speak Portuguese with a Santa Catarina accent and she speaks English like she is from Chicago. It was a good fit and we are still married 14 years later.
Why do you find Brazil so fascinating?
Brazil is a unique place. It has most of the same cultural norms as the United States. Unlike Hispanic America, Brazil was profoundly influenced by immigration and slavery this makes for a mix that is at once familiar and then unfamiliar to most Americans. I found that mix very interesting. Sao Paulo alone is the largest Italian city outside Italy. It is also the largest Syrian city outside Syria, the largest Japanese city outside of Japan, and then there are the huge Afro Brazilian populations. My wife is a German Brazilian which is an enormous community in Brazil. This mixing is fabulous and interesting. When you meet Brazilians no matter their background they act like Brazilians and this is a difference from Americans.
What’s different about Brazilian poets?
Brazilian poetry is very interesting. Unlike in Hispanic America where many poets are consciously in the Spanish tradition Brazil is its own culture. Portugal and Europe are peripheral the way England is peripheral here in the USA. This leads to all kinds of experimentation. Brazilians are open to new ideas and this makes the poetry very avant garde.
Which Brazilian poets do you think everyone should read?
It depends. Paulo Leminski is important. Sergio Medeiros, whom I translate, is very cutting edge. Maria Esther Maciel is one of the finest poets in the world not only Brazil. Josely Vianna Baptista is another fine poet. If you go out and get the Aufgabe that I did on Brazil, there are about 18 poets all of whom need to be read.
How does translating influence your work as a poet?
Translation is like sleeping with someone else’s wife. It allows you to understand what someone else is experiencing and it opens new doors to your own writing. I find translations to be very important as I write my own work.
Besides Portuguese, you also speak Spanish. How is translating Spanish different than Portuguese?
Brazilian Portuguese is a language that, like English, absorbs other languages. Unlike Spanish, there is no standard that all language is judged by and the home country (Portugal) is not a cultural dynamo the way Spain is. As a result, you can do more with Portuguese translations. Also, Brazilians are devoted to puns and word play that does not exist in Hispanic poetry.