This is Part II 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 Part I here.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
Ferreira Gullar’s major poetic work has an interesting sonic history. Gullar spent much of the 1970s in exile (1971-77) from Brazil and its dictatorship. While living in Buenos Aires, he wrote the long poem, Poema Sujo, from May to October of 1975. In order to get the poem to Brazil without attracting the attention of the dictatorship, Gullar recorded it on a cassette, which his friend Vinicius de Moraes carried back. In Rio de Janeiro, Vinicius and others held house gatherings to play the recording and share the poem, which was eventually transcribed and published in 1976. It was an early moment in Brazil when new audio technology became a means of disseminating poetry. And in a time of violent repression, it also became a medium for poetry’s potential to give people a sense of freedom through art and communal solidarity.
I interviewed Christopher Merrill on his book Only The Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars in June 0f 2004 (Cross Cultural Poetics #39). To my mind his remains the best book on those conflicts, and the fact that his journalistic efforts focus so centrally on the activities of the poets in that region is noteworthy. (I plan to speak with him again soon about his new book The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, which takes us with him on his travels through Malaysia, China, and The Middle East.) At the same time that conversation, and the transcript we did of that interview, also serves to remind us of our own political dilemmas of the not very distant past. It follows here:
Leonard Schwartz: Christopher Merrill is a poet and critic, and the author and translator of more than a dozen books, including the highly praised Only The Nails Remain: Scenes From The Balkan Wars. He is also the director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Welcome, Christopher Merrill.
Christopher Merrill: It’s nice to be here, Leonard.
Schwartz: Your book, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes From the Balkan Wars, is an extraordinary book. The San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle wrote, “a poet who has journeyed often on foot through the Balkans, Merrill presents anecdotes from ordinary people encountered during his wanderings, as well as from friends in the arts, and political leaders.