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Every Sunday, João Batista Melo sets up a tent in the Campo de São Bento Park, in the neighborhood of Icaraí, and with a scale beside him he sells his poetry by weight. Each hundred grams of cordel, the equivalent to ten booklets, can cost $20 (Brazilian currency). He and another musician, Sepalo Campelo, launched, in 2013, with support by the local government, a poetry brochure called Niterói, 440 anos de Sorrisos (Niterói, 440 years of smiles).

Improvisers teach cordel in schools. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/Diadorim Ideias

It is comprised of 44 stanzas like the following, extolling the beauty and history of the city: "The beach, the sea, the mountains form its beautiful scenery; divine hands has created an extraordinary place; the sun, the stars, the sea, when they are complete, they form a legendary landscape". Campelo helped found, in 1988, the Brazilian Academy of Cordel Literature, headquartered in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Melo joined the Academy in 2005. Since then, the two have become literature partners. They promote workshops in schools and they give lectures explaining the intricacies of the cordel.

A tireless eloquent, Campelo is the author of nearly 40 pamphlets and Melo has written more than a hundred titles. Both are retired civil servants. Campelo was born in the State of Rio Grande do Norte in 1944, and, when he was 16, he moved to his brother's house, in Niterói. Melo was born in the State of Sergipe, in 1938. He was a union activist in his youth and has traveled to several cities in the Northeast, in the 1970s, fleeing from the agents of repression. He reached Niterói in 1995 and, for many years, he worked as a doorman at a hotel.

Cordel has been part of their lives since adolescence. "My homeland had many typical celebrations; I fell in love with the cordel style by singing on public places and then I started to write", Melo says. "In small towns there were no newspapers, so cordel was the book that portrayed reality", says Campelo. "When we had no television, people vibrated with decasyllables, ten-syllable verses", added Melo.

The Rio Academy of Cordel holds a collection of about 10,000 titles, most of them by Northeastern authors. For Melo, cordel is "a virtue to be revealed". In 2011, the duo became known after reciting poetry at the end of the soap opera Cordel Encantado, produced by Globo TV.

General Information

Address: Campo de São Bento Park
Phone: (+55 21) 99722-6164 (João Batista Melo) / 2232-4801 / 2221-1077 (Brazilian Academy of Cordel Literature)
E-mail address:

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