International award winning Portuguese poet Sara F. Costa gets candid about her book ‘River-Being, Bodily-God’

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Sara F. Costa is a Portuguese poet, writer, and translator. She has published six books in Portugal and one in India. Her latest book won the international award “Glória de Sant’Anna” for best poetry book published in Portuguese-speaking countries in 2018. 

She has an MA in Intercultural Studies: Portuguese/Chinese from Tianjin Foreign Studies University. Her verses have been translated into several languages and featured in literary journals all across the world. As an emerging European poet, she was an invited author to the International Istanbul Poetry Festival 2017. In 2018, Sara worked in the organization of The Script Road-Macau Literary Festival and China-European Union Literary Festival in Shanghai and Suzhou. In 2019, she was invited to go to Kolkata, India, to share her poetry in the second edition of “Chair Poetry Evenings.” 

She translates Chinese poetry into Portuguese and coordinates events for the Spittoon Beijing Based Arts Collective. She translated a collection of contemporary Chinese poetry into Portuguese. In 2021 she received a national grant from the Portuguese Government to write a poetry book. “River-Being, Bodily-God” (Red River, 2022) is her first poetry collection in English that she launched in Bangalore, India, at the Asian Pacific Writers and Translators Literary Festival, in November 2022.

 

Poem from “River-Being, Bodily-God” (Red River, 2022)

I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression I went before a scared window

open on the lips

remember the dimension of the stars

not to the wounded sleep

the woman who bathes and drowns

in her own skin

vomit menstruation

by her crumbling breasts

the milk blooming

until devastation.

playground, breath, planet

wrapped up in confinement

of brood object

bad breath poems

never depressive

just a desire to leave the body

leave it in automatic mode for posterity save yourself

in a narrated micronarrative

by a surgical father

open window by cesarean

open to expel the star

open to welcome the night

let the darkness settle in

and rest overnight

on the most comfortable edge of the uterus, postpartum open,

broken glass

decorating the infirmary.

 

We had the pleasure of interviewing Sara F. Costa. Here are the excerpts from the interview. 

Hi Sara, Great to have you with us today! Please share with our readers about yourself.

Hi, I’m a poet from Portugal. I don’t know what I should call myself. Sometimes I feel really random about everything, but I guess I focus my interests on literature, languages, and cultures. I have a degree in mandarin and lived in China for a while. I have been writing poetry since I was 8 years old, and I guess I’ll take the opportunity of this interview to share about my first book translated into English!

But you have other poetry collections published just that, only in Portuguese, right? 

Exactly. 

Can I call you a poet?

I suppose so… yes, you can. I mean, some people are really uncomfortable with taking the “title.” For me, it is more like I don’t want to take “the label” because, in my everyday life, I do so many things.

Do you have quite a busy life? What does a day look like in the life of Sara F. Costa? 

Well, I usually wake up. I take care of my son in the morning. It’s always a pre-workout to dress him up. Then, I actually work out. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day. I get to do yoga on a few days of the week, kickboxing on other days, and running…then I have to work. I can either go to the library to write or I go home. I spend the rest of the day working as a mandarin customer representative. 

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Wow, that seems like a lot! You’re 35; how did you get there?

Do you mean, in general? Like, I did get a son and everything?…

(Laughs) No, I think we all know where babies come from at this point. No, but seriously, tell us about your journey.

In the beginning, this thing about writing poetry or fiction or papers wasn’t so related to China or Chinese culture, but as I spent a decent amount of time learning mandarin, then of course, the two worlds crossed somehow. I recently translated a collection of contemporary Chinese poetry into Portuguese. That’s a way of crossing my academic interest in China and my passionate devotion to writing poetry. 

River-Being, Bodily-God, for instance, how did this one happen?

I got pregnant, and I was writing a lot when I lived in Beijing. I had plenty of time on my hands, so I started to experience that feeling of being a writer for real. I don’t quite feel like that when I have to spend 8 hours a day working in a more ‘regular’ job. So, it was just natural. I was pregnant, and I was writing. At the time, I was working on a novel, but around the 8th month of pregnancy, I couldn’t help myself but write poetry about this feeling of being pregnant. 

So it’s poetry about your experience with pregnancy?

In a sense, it is. Life got complicated after that for personal reasons and for absolutely not personal reasons, such as an international pandemic that made me move across the world back to my country. So, if you allow me, I said something in Bangalore that caused quite an impact, and I would like to repeat it…

Go ahead!

Yeah, so I was a bit a drunk in this poetry reading when I was attending the Asian Pacific Writers and Translators Literary Festival in Bangalore, India, and someone asked to say a few words about my book; I said, “You know, I wanted to write a book about my lovely baby, but I ended up telling my father to f**k off!”

Well, it can be something funny to say but also quite a statement…

What I mean is, becoming a mother is much more than adapting to this new role in society. It is a deeply introspective moment of reflection about your own childhood and, eventually, your life. At least, it was for me. That’s why, in a sense, this book has many different chapters. In the beginning, it is all about the ethereal state of conceiving a new being inside of me (that wasn’t only metaphorical, for the first time ever!), but then the book goes in different ways. My relationship with my parents comes up, and my relationship with my partner and men and women in general, which is, in a sense, also a tale of my life journey. Now, I’m not saying it is super biographical, but I mean, the experience started in this place of concrete experience, and the book just came out of that. That’s why, I believe, many people tell me they feel that it is a visceral reading.    

What are the strategies that helped you become successful in your journey?

I don’t know what it means to be successful as a poet. We can go for the market logic and say if the book sells and I get ‘famous’ – as famous as a poet can be, I mean.. who still knows who was… I don’t know, let’s say, Julia Ward Howe? Of course, we can get more visibility in this age and era, but it also means that everyone can have that visibility. You can either be a philosophical genius or just a girl shaking your ass on TikTok, and both get equally famous, and I’m sure the last one earns much more. So I don’t know if money means success. I’m sure that in 2023 I would like more free time, as I’m also writing a Ph.D. thesis… so… time is also a luxury in a society that didn’t overcome the norm of working 8 hours a day since the Industrial Revolution; I mean. 

I see you’re not a big fan of capitalism…

It’s not all about capitalism… although… it is! (Laughs) I mean, it is about the current global economic system we take for granted, for sure. The idea is that capitalism is just “the way things work,” offer and demand, the “natural” law. People need to go back to philosophy and ask themselves what the word “natural” really means; that could be a start. But more than being angry at capitalism, I’m deeply angry at “the spectacle,” as Guy Debord put it. We’re digging more and more into that dystopia of having fake virtual lives and, at the same time, being completely isolated: it’s just us and our purchases! So boring to work for so long in meaningless jobs that we all become what we can buy. I think that’s the point of all of this system, to isolate you and to get you to buy a fake life to show off on social media while we are, collectively, deeply depressed, being part of the global fantasy, selling happiness to others. And that’s just not how happiness work.

Any message for our readers?

I hope you enjoy the reading. I’m always super curious to know what was a reader’s take from a poetry collection. I believe that writing poetry is a way of dialogue, and the book is only finished with the reader’s perspective. I love to hear them!

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Fantastic! So tell us, how can people find out more about you?

Add me on social media, ask me out, buy me a drink, and let’s talk! You can follow me on Instagram @sarafcosta__.

 

Thank you so much, Sara, for giving us your precious time! We wish you all the best for your journey ahead!