||José Francisco Borges never thought he would become known all over the world. When he was born, in 1935, on a smallholding in Bezerros, in the interior of Pernambuco, he had to help his father in the fields. But he also used to make things to sell at the market. In 1952 the family had to pack up and move south. The drought was fierce and people needed jobs. J. Borges, as he likes to be called, never forgot it. “I’ve done a little bit of everything but when I was 20 years old I bought a set of cordel (handmade booklets) to sell in the squares and in the markets. They sold well so I decided to write my own. The cover was a woodcut print by Dila. When I wrote the next one, I didn’t have money to pay for the cover so I decided to give it a go and do it myself. It sold well and the other cordel writers liked my prints. So I started making prints for other people. One day (writer) Ariano Suassuna said that in his opinion I was the best woodcut printer in the North East. That was great! Thanks to him I have all I have, I teach a lot, I’ve taught my children and I know I’m recognized in many parts of the world. I want to carry on writing and making prints to promote my region. I don’t want to exhibit things from outside.”
J. Borges has been around. His stories would fill many books and his prints many more. He is a fierce supporter of the traditional cordel. “I don’t want the cordel to die. The only thing we had in the countryside was cordel. It brought us fun, news, and it helped us learn how to read and study. I’ve only had 10 months of classes in my life. The teacher left and I carried on learning how to read by myself. I read anything I could get my hands on.
Cordel books must be simple, must touch people’s souls. People have fun just by looking at the cover and they laugh when they read or hear someone singing the stories out loud. I believe the cordel must be a well told lie then it becomes true. People buy them and end up believing the stories, as they are passed down through the generations.
Nowadays people want things to be easy, like the TV. You only need to sit and watch. But I carry on with my work. I think I chose this path because it allows me the freedom to express myself. A saint maker only makes saints. I can make a saint one day, a fish the next, animals, people, I mix everything and tell stories. They are full of the contrasts of life. That’s how cordel is meant to be.” In his stories J. Borges also remembers his fellow poets. On these pages, he represents them all. To name some: Stênio Diniz, Abrahão Batista, Kleiton Vianna and Patativa do Assaré, who passed way in 2002.