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Last week I learned that …

June 10, 2013

Last week I learned a bit more about popular literature.  While I was in Brazil I discovered folk-popular poetry or so-called string literature (literatura de cordel) of Northeastern Brazil.  Which is like our English chapbook; a hybrid literature of ‘popular and folkloric forms’.  

The works are small booklets; the cover serves as the title page and it always has a meaningful woodcut image.  They are made of poor quality paper and the type is like that of a newspaper. They are sold in plazas, markets and on street corners in many towns and cities of Brazil and are still readily available.

The string literature comes from the oral folk tradition of northeast Brazil.  The poet sings the poem in the markets and fairs with a partner in a poetic duel or rival.  This was very popular during the 19th and 20th century.  Earlier, in the 16th and 17th centuries a type of cordel existed but more  like a leaflet of verse;  described by Mark J. Curran in Brazil’s folk-popular poetry ‘a literatura de Cordel as  a ‘poetic flyer’  brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonizers.  

Which ties in with Victor E. Neuburg who writes in the The Penny Histories about ‘eighteenth century writers who looked back with pleasure at the little books [chapbooks] as ‘the old classics of the nursery’.  He goes on to say that the story of Faust; and a popular chapbook that was reprinted several times came from Germany. Also Fortunatus , first published in Augsburg in 1509 first appeared in England in 1600.  These booklets were not produced for the landed gentry but the ‘ordinary men and their growing interest in books and the spread of literacy in all sections of society including the poorest.

So while it is difficult to say where and when the concept was created; it certainly worked and traveled well.  

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