By Greg Bem
To bleed, one’s fortune written
by the scythe; to bleed
with wings stretching
to the stars.
(from “Consecration of the Wolves, part III, page 17)
Far from a stranger within the world of Brazilian poetry, Consecration of the Wolves marks Salgado Maranhão’s fifth release of poetry in English. This bilingual edition stoically translated by Alexis Levitin, presents the English translation and the original Portuguese side-by-side. It is a beautiful collection of verse. It is visceral, challenging, and surreal.
Like one of the poet’s direct influences, Mayakovski, Maranhão’s explores the relationships to our constructed world just as he explores the relationship of the self to the universe. The results reveal the systems of control and fatalistic exhaustion as much as they do the reckoning of power and the spiraling call toward freedom.
Following the reiteration of a Cherokee legend that situates the act of consecration through which the book gets its name, the collection continues in a deliverance through multiple strands. The book is structured in three sections. The book’s title poem, the 15-part “Consecration of the Wolves,” is sparse and tense. Each poem lasts no longer than a page and builds upon its predecessor through abstraction and the extremes of symbolism. Not satisfactory in a single read, these are not only sparse but dense poems containing multitudes. There is resonance of the 19th and 20th centuries. There was a bridge across time, and I felt the voices of Char, Trakl, and Lorca within the folds of the lines.
Within “Consecration of the Wolves,” Maranhão’s words follow a relatively acute structure, with nearly every line presented fully in sequence until the burst, the surprise, the explosive tabulation of a phrase. These lines jut out and tear apart the poem like a tremor, a spasm, or a seizure. They are revelation visualized in text, as subtle as they may seem, and they are uniquely Maranhão in their conciseness and spirit of resolve:
I speak to beat down
the flame above innocence.
The seeds of those
who seek neither gold
nor victory in blood
will come to us abloom.
(from “Consecration of the Wolves, part VII,” page 25)
What I find humbling is the twists and turns of Maranhão’s rhetoric. The poet’s speaker is one of personalism and personality: we are invited into the exasperated texture. It is a realm of extremes, often feeling psychotic and intimate, often frustrating, and yet mysterious. As ritual or lullaby, these are poems that feel imperative and yet could be read as a whisper between states of consciousness.
The book’s second section, “Larvae of the Fracture,” is filled with additional sequences of symbols and questions. The poems here appear to speak of horror and monstrosity, though often superficially and analogically. Much like Justin Phillip Reed’s indispensable The Malevolent Volume, Maranhão zooms into the common figures of our surroundings, the evil lurking within the periphery, and sharpens focus.
“The Living Dead” provides a perfect example near the beginning of the sequence: “The dead are alive—/waxen scarecrows/of rotten joy” (page 47). Throwbacks to films following the same name and formula can’t be helped. There is a general return to and reminiscence of George A. Romero and more contemporary designers of the genre in this poetry of Maranhão. Other featured creatures include shades and hordes and a cult, and two poems are labeled as “Fractures.” But these are not genre poems and they do not feel ridiculous. Instead, they draw the reader toward a mature reflection on a center that is uneasy and filled with discomfort. Maranhão’s symbolism reaches surreal proportions in its demand for us to question and seek to look within transformation of image and scenario. “Daggers (Fractures 1)” is an exquisite example of this type of examination:
They have turned to daggers—
what once were sprigs sprouting in the rain.
The collection closed with a sequence of great difficulty: “Like a River.” The 12-part poem is filled with an energy of pain and open wounds. In it, Maranhão paints a world that is haunted by inequity and stasis. It is hallowed ground and hollow souls. In many ways, it is nihilistic, like the late Alfredo de Palchi, where the world may hardly be worth saving, though it is impossibly present. Maranhão writes in the ninth section:
I gallop these geographies,
this tribunal of blood
The poet continues with the jabs and the pokes of the broken/abstracted lines. The poet writes of presence despite struggle, suffering, violence, and death. And yet in doing so he has also provided us with a supreme juxtaposition: a fantastical situation where the voice’s presence is counter to the brutal reality which it describes. Brutality feels so fixed, and yet the poet is on the move. The poet, as body of water, can pass through to some distant elsewhere, as undefined as it may be. Beneficially, the reader may float along and bear witness while moving toward that unknown future as well.
Toward the end of the book’s closing essay, written by Professor Jack A. Draper III, there is a brilliant comment on the bestial qualities of those who are sovereign during a time of crises (page cv). When laid over Maranhão’s collection, I am left mesmerized. These are poems composed in sovereignty despite their active exploration of rising into a liberated stage from page to page. Maranhão has accomplished much with this collection on liberation and has in turn created a puzzle for his readers. The book is indeed worth every moment of opening, unbinding, and freeing even further through the subtle act of reading.
Consecration of the Wolves feels like a fantastic gift as it arrives in the middle of the pandemic. The translation between Maranhão’s Portuguese and Alexis Levitin’s English were completed in February of 2020, and their delivery to the world was prolonged. In many ways, the dagger-like verse that points and stabs toward the reader is as unnerving out of context as it is within the context of COVID-19. Each moment of suffering, each moment of yearning toward openness, and each sobering recognition toward liberation will forever be symbolically aligned with the pandemic’s veil and our collective, though individualized too, sense of endurance.
You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781734653502/consecration-of-the-wolves.aspx
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com