This is Part IV of a four-part essay that appears in Portuguese in Deslocamentos Críticos (Lisbon: Babel; São Paulo, Itaú Cultural, 2011) under the title "Obra Sonora Poética: 1980-2010." Read Parts I, II, and III.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
In the twenty-first century, Ricardo Aleixo and younger Brazilian poets are joining veteran vanguardists such as Augusto de Campos as global players in cross-platform writing. But in the last decade, young innovative poets also have been creating a stylistic register that does not feature the prominent, material use of sound that appears to epitomize this century. Instead, they write lyric poems that are sufficiently skeptical of the mode. These poems paint descriptive, imagistic scenes with emotional resonance, and irony. They dialogue with an international roster of inspirational places and poetic predecessors, and at times fight with them. They shamelessly mull over language and the mundane. They are dystopian, but rooted in place and local light. In these ambient poems, sound comes to be important as tone.
It was one of those days when everything random converged. The evening before, our friend who devoted a long career working with youth at risk talked to us about another friend, a Khmer Rouge survivor, who has spoken to several of my classes. The first time he told his story, he traumatized my freshmen by telling them about a woman bludgeoned to death before her colleagues for asking for more food. He finished the story with a laugh. My students couldn't get over his laugh. It assumed more importance to them, it seemed, than the story itself. “He shouldn't have laughed,” more than one told me. That day things converged, call it last Thursday, I awakened to an on-line citation of a memory card of my own, plucked at random by Joseph Harrington from my new book, based on a story told to me by a man who works as a prison psychologist, whose mother was in the same Alzheimer's home as mine. “He tells me about a [Cambodian] prisoner, 72 years old, stuffed inside a suicide shirt, who screams in Khmer that someone is beheading him.” And at noon, I attended a talk at the Biography Center at my university by Sydney L. Iaukea, whose new book is The Queen and I: A Story of Dispossessions and Reconnections in Hawai`i.Iaukea is a political scientist writing about the trauma of Hawaiian history, the effects of those traumas on extended families like her own.
I'll bet most readers of this commentary did not realize that William Carlos Williams made a television appearance. Yes, it was September 4, 1957, and the old stroke-inhibited but still feisty poet went to the studios of WABD (New York) and appeared with host John Wingate on a show called Nightbeat. Today we've segmented the audio version of this recording into topics. You'll note that WCW talks about television for 33 seconds, and about Stevenson, Eisenhower and Kennedy for a minute and a half (already anticipating the 1960 presidential election). Here are those segments:
on practicing medicine and writing poetry (1:59): MP3
on the Greenwich Village poets and separating from the crowd (4:15): MP3
These three videos were made of the Blind Witness trilogy at the time of the original productions in the 1990s. They are available now for the first time, thanks to PennSound. PennSound's Ben Yarmolinsky page also has audio tracks for all the operas as well as video and audio of subsequent performances. Just below the videos is Yarmolinksy's introduction to the Facorty School book.