Literatura de cordel, or Cordel literature, is named for the way it is displayed by street vendors and at fairs in the northeast region of Brazil: hanging from a string (see image). They are produced as inexpensive pamphlets or booklets and often illustrated with woodcuts.
There are three major types of cordelian poems:
- The oral, improvised poetic duel in written form called the peleja.
- “Traditional” popular literature, largely in a fiction mode dealing with fairy tales or love and adventure. The largest number of poems in cordel are in this mode.
- Non-fiction (in large part) stories which report all manner of current events from the local to the international.
Because of the latter (n. 3), cordel became known as the “newspaper” in verse of the poor of Northeast Brazil and its poet “the voice of the people.” The current event stories now provide the main link in communication between the national media and its “recodification” in the people’s newspaper in verse.
Cordel literature is available right here at the University of Illinois Libraries. The best way to find it is by searching the online catalog by subject for Chapbooks, Brazilian. This will retrieve not only Cordel literature titles, but also works about it. Many items from the Cordel literature collection are stored at Oak Street, but you can request them through the online catalog and have them sent to the library of your choice.
More in-depth online resources for Cordel Literature:
- The University of Wisconsin has an excellent guide to Cordel Literature, with information on its history, US library holdings, and resources for research (articles, books, websites, YouTube videos, etc.) : http://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/cordel_literature
- Curran’s Cordel Connection provides a more extensive introduction to Cordel Literature with explanations of its role, status, and value in Brazilian culture today : http://www.public.asu.edu/~atmjc/index.html
- Academia Brasileira de Literatura de Cordel: http://www.ablc.com.br/index.htm
- Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa offers an online catalog of its Cordel collection of over 9000 titles, with over 2300 accessible in full-text online, and a glossary of Cordel literature vocabulary: http://www.casaruibarbosa.gov.br/cordel