Alexis Levitin (left) and Salgado Maranhao at a poetry reading in Plattsburgh.
PLATTSBURGH — In Salgado Maranhao’s mind, “madmen laugh in the shadows of the mist.”
Rattlesnakes represent the beasts, the people surrounding us in the world the award-winning poet from Brazil shares.
And always, “The breath of rhythm’s second chance,” awaits the hands that call it their own.
Recently, the poet and visiting Presidential Scholar gave a bilingual reading of his book, “Blood of the Sun,” with Dr. Alexis Levitin of Plattsburgh State. They are traveling to 50 universities over three months to share the work of Maranhao, who is also a songwriter.
Maranhao began his life in rural Brazil, a part of the country without a hospital or schools, where the young man would find work picking corn, beans, rice and cotton in a dry region where crops struggled to grow.
His white father was descended from a wealthy family whose plantations had once been worked by slaves.
His mother was intelligent and determined, a black field laborer who sang to him from a folk tradition tracing back to the lyric poetry of troubadours.
His mother desired a better fate for him, and when the boy was 15 she moved them to the state capital.
Maranhao didn’t know how to read or write, but he was enrolled in school and within three years he completed grades 1-12.
Within four years he was a practicing journalist.
He read every book in the library and wrote poetry, and attended the university for a bit.
He had long listened to individuals who passed through town reciting poetry, which was in his blood.
Today, he is one of Brazil’s leading contemporary poets, and his collected poems, “The Color of the Word,” won the country’s highest award.
An earlier collection, “Mural of Winds,” was honored in 1999.
In addition to eight books of poetry, he has written song lyrics and made recordings with some of Brazil’s leading jazz and pop musicians.
Levitin’s translations of Maranhao’s poems have appeared in several publications.
His poetry has vivid imagery and strong social undertones, tackling an array of subjects such as lost love, morality, politics, death and race.
Maranhao was impressed by the number of people who turned out in Plattsburgh to hear his poetry.
“The world is saved.”
In a poem, “Of the Breath,” he writes of facing the “diverse, the perverse, where tattered angels pray to vultures.”
In a poem against consumerism he writes of reflecting the “assembly line of our desires,” and “Junk that seals our eyelids shut.”
Maranhao uses a mirror in one poem to take on narcissism.
He told the audience after the reading that inspiration must come to the poet, who is chosen by his craft.
Everyone has a gift, he said, but it is up to each and every one of us to work hard to “turn the poem into a good poem.”