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The Concrete Poetry Movement in Brazil
Severo Sarduy



RELATED RESOURCES:
Haroldo de Campos in UbuWeb Historical
Augusto de Campos in UbuWeb Historical
Decio Pignatari in UbuWeb Historical
"Concrete Poetry: A World View : Brazil" in UbuWeb Papers
"The Imperative of Invention..." Charles A. Perrone
"Interview with Augusto de Campos" Roland Greene
"The Concrete Historical" Roland Greene
Sérgio Bessa "Architecture Versus Sound in Concrete Poetry"
"Speaking About Genre: the Case of Concrete Poetry" Victoria Pineda
"From (Command) Line to (Iconic) Constellation", Kenneth Goldsmith



FROM its beginnings in a small, privatelyprinted review launched in Sao Paulo in 1952 and the work of its three founding poets, Haroldo de Campos (born Sao Paulo, 1929), his brother Augusto (1931), and Decio Pignatari (1927), Brazil's concrete poetry movement, concretismo,--which was actually a whole new way of looking not only at poetry but at life itself--went on to make its mark all over the world.

The review, Noigandres, is now a covetedcollector's item. Rather unexpectedly, the aesthetic ideas it championed first had a response in the Federal Republic of Germany, in the work of Max Bense, who had come to concrete poetry thanks to the Swiss-Bolivian poet Eugen Gomringer, who himself had become a founder-discoverer of the movement through a chance meeting with Decio Pignatari. The movement next found an echo in the work of the Japanese poet Kitasono Katsue, before conquering that nomadic and universal land, the printed page.

How should we define concrete poetry and itsessence, concretud (concreteness)?" Instead of being a poem in the conventional sense, a concrete poem is akin to a diagram or drawing, a pattern on the printed page which forcefully and efficiently represents not only objects or concepts but the relationship between them, the invisible structures of sound and meaning that bind them together, their hidden affinities or antagonisms. What is more, as Guillaume Apollinaire put it, writing must be understood in analytical and discursive terms before its all-embracing ideographic message can be understood. For example, the poem reproduced here, Epithalamium-II, by the concrete poet Pedro Xisto, encapsulates the story of Paradise and enables it to be grasped at a glance, consisting as it does of a HE, a SHE and an "S" representing the devious serpent, but also of an "H" (for homo, in other words Adam) and an "E" for Eve, positioned symmetrically and indissolubly bound together by the serpent, just as in the Garden of Eden. The reader is obviously free to interpret the scene in his or her own way, and thereby join in the process of poetic creation.

However, according to Haroldo de Campos,the Pound-like patriarch of the movement and its chief theorist, concretismo is not merely "a hedonistic graphic arrangement or layout", nor a calligramme in which words are transformed into images of the things they designate (the word "rose" actually becoming a rose). In concrete poetry words are dismantled and modified so that we can see what they are made of, like a complex toy taken to pieces by a wayward child. In short, the poet becomes a "designer" of meaning.

The term concretismo is taken from the plasticarts, and designates non-figurative, geometric and rational compositions in which the key feature is the objective technique with which they were produced, and a clearly defined icon-like image drained of any residual emotion or subjective content, rather than any message or perception of the "other" reality, which such works might have managed to convey.

The poetic movement adopted the theoreticaltenets of this style of painting and even expanded on them: when in 1955 Eugen Gomringer was introduced to Decio Pignatari by the Argentine theorist and teacher Tomas Maldonado, he was the secretary of the Swiss graphic artist, architect and designer Max Bill, then director of the College of Design in Ulm (Fed. Rep. of Germany). Above all, however, concretismo delved back into an area of the Brazilian past that had been overlooked or unintentionally underrated. This was the subversive tradition which began with the Modernists around 1911, reached its climax in the 1930s with Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Murilo Mendes, and continued as far as Joao Cabral de Melo Neto.

But the concrete poets went even further: theytook over the broken and violent diction of Oswald and Mario de Andrade, the "cannibalist forefathers", as Haroldo de Campos called them, and went back even further to rediscover the authentically revolutionary modern idiom of Sousandrade (Joaquim de Sousa Andrade, 1833-1902), a great poet who had been completely forgotten. In 1877, this contemporary of Baudelaire, who lived in the United States for ten years, wrote what Haroldo de Campos regards as the foundation stone of concretud: a long poem entitled O guesa errante, which culminates in an astonishing sequence--"Wall Street Hell"--which might be described as textual marquetry or polyphony, in which layout, neologisms, verbal montage and sudden changes in tone evoke the newspapers of that period and the hectic world of the stock market. It is a typographical explosion in a pre-Poundian expanding universe.

This, then, is Brazilian concrete poetry.



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