Postmodern Collage Poetry

A blog about writing collage poetry, post modern poetry, multi lingual poetry

Friday, April 07, 2006

My Talk From &Now

Below is my talk from &Now
"Sources in South American Poetry: Pablo Neruda's Poetic of Indiginism the history of Latin America and Paulo Leminski's inner global Brazilian poetic"


The key poetic form for the Americas and American poets is the creation or history epic. If you look at some of the great books of poetry or poetic prose created in the Americas ;

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, Paterson, William Carlos Williams, Maximus by Charles Olson, Canto General by Pablo Neruda, Martin Fierro by Jose Hernandez or Catatau by Paulo Leminski all of these seminal works use history and poetry to create an epic that can be read as either a self-creation or a creation myth story.
Heroic and Epic Pasts

All American countries be they English, Spanish or Portuguese speaking are artificial creations. There are however some nations in the Americas that are less artificial for example Mexico, Peru ,Bolivia or Paraguay have strong indig. cultures and inig languages like Nahuatl, Quechua, Aymara or Tupi Guarani are spoken readily.

Both ethnically and linguistically there is a fusion of Spanish and Indig. In much of Spanish speaking Latin America the epic has been embodied by a sense of a shared American identity that is based in conquest and Spanish domination, and the desire to retrieve pre Colombian forms and ideas.

This is called Indiginismo. gave rise to visual artists like Diego Rivera, and most markedly Poets like Pablo Neruda and his Canto General that are in their epic forms searching to retrieve a past. This was embodied cinematically in the recent film the Motorcycle Diaries when the Che character and Walter Salles the director, juxtaposes contemporary Lima with the ‘purity’ of Machu Picchu which for Neruda is the apex of the true ‘american’ epic and heroic past. In the same
movie you see the contrast between the Andean world with its strong Inka influence and culture with the Euro latin culture of Argentina.

Pablo Neruda’s Epic Canto General, Paulo Leminski’s Catatau

Hispanic America, that is from Mexico to Argentina was based upon a shared myth of conquest and conversion. The Spanish built the same city from Santa Fe, in what is now New Mexico to Ushuaia in what is today Argentina based around the Church, the Prefecture and the Spanish language and a set history and racial division. Fusion occurred in Spanish America but large scale immigration did not except for Argentina, Chile and Uruguay and then not until the 19th century.

This is not to say that Mexico, Peru or Chile’s poets were not cosmopolitan what is does say is that Neruda for example begins with a base firmly placed in a sense of conquest and a respect for a Pre Columbian past while in Brazil and the United States an imported cosmopolitanism and exceptionalism colors the poetic project.

Neruda is firmly placed in the Spanish and Latin American tradition of poetics. He owes as much to Cervantes as to the Mapuches or Machu Picchu but he chose to create an epic based in a choice for the inig. past of the Americas. He uses Machu Picchu the Liberators San Martin and Bolivar and the texture and textile of Latin American Mestijae to create a history in poetry using sources that are varied. This creation in some ways is artificial since the groups that he fuses together in Canto General had little or no contact with one another. The Indian slaves of Potosi or the musing of Father Bartolome De Las Casas or the focus on the Mapuches of Chile or Walt Whitman are an artificial construct to show the fact that the land and its shared history are central to his poetic project.

Canto General begins with a sense of loss. he starts with the land with the flowers the minerals the history of the continent and then begins

“ a las tierras sin nombres y sin nombres y sin numeros
bajaba el viento desde otros dominios
traia la lluvia hilos celestes
y el dios de los altares impregnados
devolvia las flores y las vidas”

en la fertilidad crecia el tiempo”

“to the lands without names and without names and numbers
below the wind of other dominions
brings the rain below blue skys
and the gods of the impregnable altars
return the flowers and the lives

in the fertile grows time”

Neruda’s poetry based in a sense of indiginismo has continued to be an important movement in Latin America outside of Brazil for the past 25 years. Mexican poet Coral Bracho, Argentine Porteno Poets Nestor Perlonger, Eduardo Espina, Tulio Mora, Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal and many others continue to use older, neo baroque lyric forms and to use their work with history and indiginismio. These ‘conservative’ forms remain central sources for many American poets writing in Spanish.

The sense of indiginism continues as well in Music and visual art, So you have music groups like the many Andean and other Indig. groups that continue to use ources and a unique way of creating poetry in a region of the world where poetry has not lost its importance as an artform.

BRAZIL Immigrant Nations and Cosmopolitanisms

Juxtaposed to the idea of America as a conquered place where we need to reclaim our indig. past are immigrant nations. These nations and their poetic projects do not harken back to pre Colombian forms or to epics based in conquest and retrieval of a past. These nations, broadly are creating epics of creation and conquest.

Brazil, and the United States were formed poetically and politically by similar forces, Slavery, Massive European Immigration and Genocide of their
inidg. populations.

Iconic figures like Brazil’s Bandirantes or the freedom Fighter Tiradentes or our Mountain Men or Pioneer’s in their prairie schooners are formed by newness, cultural creation on the positive side and on the negative side genocide and slavery.

The result of this basis for a poetic is an importation of a cosmopolitanism that is unique to this experience of culture. Just think about Whitman praising the immigrant in New York for example. this type of literature is unique to these sources and this experience.

This hybrid of Land and Immigration is well embodied in the Brazilian poet Paulo Leminski who was the son of a Polish immigrant father and an Afro Brazilian mother, who spoke Portuguese, English, German, Polish, and Italian and who lived in what is perhaps the most diverse city of its size in South America, Curitiba which has over 100 nationalities included in its phone directory.

Brazil’s formation effects Leminski’s and other Brazilian poets projects and especially his poetic descendants writing today. The Mixture of races and cultures was tacitly encouraged in Brazil. Of course did not make the poverty or racism any less vile but it was a very different history.

An example in the Brazilian city of Ouro Preto, a center of Gold mining in Minas Gerais in 1670 over 94% of the population was of mixed African. European and Indig. blood and regularly grandees adopted their mixed race children as was the case with Brazil’s greatest pre-independence artist Alejadinho who created some of the greatest sculptures in the history of the western hemisphere.

This continues to this day especially in music where you have Italian, Portuguese, German and African music fusing to form Samba, Sampa and other Brazilian forms.

Leminski’s Poetic as a Contrast to Neruda’s

In contrast to Neruda and Indiginism; Machu Picchu for Brazilians is a ruin like the Coloseum or the Parthenon to be admired but not to be yearned for.

While many Latin American writers writing in Spanish look to indiginism as a lodestar Brazil has a very different focus. In the 1950’s a strong European Avant Garde influence filled Brazil’s poetry and visual art. The exhibition of Swiss artist Max Bill for example proved very influential to the growth of Brazilian Concrete poetry. Brazilian visual art rather than looking toward a past became geometric and installation driven. Brazilian painting, poetry and sculpture was developing a Postmodern sense at the same time that other cultures were doing the same and this led to a sense of openness and cosmopolitanism that is not found in many places.

Leminski in his novel Catatau has at its center a voyage of the French philosopher Rene Descartes to Brazil during the Dutch invasion of the 17th Century it uses text and ideas that are always in dialogue with the outside with the great exterior world. he jumps from idea to idea creating a deep inner sense and internal creation. Leminski fuses European senses with Afro Brazilian and immigrant perceptions and then uses language to create a series of short jarring sections that include eroticism and contrast well with the music of Brazil. This can be seen throughout the work.

In his poetry as well. Unlike Neruda, Leminski is not using an established tradition of lyric to illustrate his epic but has placed himself squarely in the world of Joyce, Pound, French Avant Garde Writing and alike to create something that is ‘new’ and requires more from the reader. Leminski also uses worldplay.
To use musical reference the singer Gilberto Gil, a follower of Leminski constantly creates songs where wordplay is central to the work so for example he creates song about A REDE regarding the internet but then the word REDE also means hammock and he plays between the two to satire and contrast between a Brazilian sense and a world sense, Leminski does the same thing in Catatau and this is a unique Brazilian way of creating new ness in poetry and music.

Leminski is a popular figure and unlike Neruda he is not a diplomat or a frequenter of Capri or elite salons he works in advertising and who lives in a house with his wife and spends his weekends drinking and carousing.

Leminski is concerned always with a dialogue with the outside and with his fusion culture so his friends like Regis Bonvicino, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are in dialogue with him and his sense of history subsumes the facts of their art and formation.

At least two of Leminiski’s poems have been turned into pop songs and in Brazil Popular music and poetry and poets are very closely connected.

here is an example of a poem from Leminski that originated in a letter to a poetic friend

Vontade de comer?
Restaurante Apendecite?
o restaurante sem imaginacao

Restaurante Apendecite
so serve arroiz e fejiao

Desire to eat?
Apedecitis Restaurant?
or Restaurant without imagination

Apendix Restaurant
only serves rice and beans

Throughout the entire book Catatau Leminski creates an epic of creation but it is an internal creation. Leminski realizes that for his culture the creation is self creation .Brazil and by inference Leminski does not focus on an imagined or idealized past.

He instead looks to fusion as do Brazilian musicians. If you listen for example to Leminski’s dear friend and collaborator Caetano Veloso the singer you will hear the fusion of African, European and Indig. that is uniquely Brazilian and does not have idealized sense of Canto General while it may share its politics.

Brazilian Avant Garde Writing Today

As we have discussed in Spanish Speaking Latin America there is still a strong sense of Neruda’s Inidigism. Poets from throughout the region continue to draw on this well of history and sources to create new works. In Brazil however even Indig. poets do not place themselves in an indiginism tradition. I just finished translating a poem for Aufgabe by the Brazilian Guarani poet Sergio Medeiros. This work will appear in the issue and it is called Catarata and is based in his personal experience of growing up in the shadow of Brazil;s Iguazu falls.

The Absurd Paranaeses
Sérgio Medeiros*(Trans Raymond Bianchi)
// fine rain a disequilibrated wind
what a wind
// leaves that balance
on the vase/// and leaps of em-
// a button
the helix
open air
// crepuscule,
Two Dry Wings

E, F, G
// the liquid
whirling/ is
sucking a drink
(The foot in the sand/
an insect hueless
beats his wings/sending:
//Rings over the rocks
the wall/ didgets