Features - April 2011
The materials published in this feature are led by my introduction to a symposium on the poetry and poetics of 1960. The introduction you'll read here is more or less just as I spoke it a few months ago at the Writers House in Philadelphia. Since then, Gordon Faylor and I have gathered somewhat revised versions of the presentations made that evening. We then solicited responses from various others and we are happy to present these also as part of our 1960 feature, along with several other images and documents. I have been obsessively tracking 1960 doings and writings — reading, watching (film and TV), researching, interviewing, cross-referencing, following apparently meaningless leads; some of these have been posted to my blog “1960.” Needless to say, then, I was delighted to have 1960-obsessed company for a night in December 2010 — and then, further, throughout the following weeks and months as I worked with the original presenters and added respondents. I wish to thank Gordon, who has been the super-precise editor of this elaborate feature and who is responsible for all ways in which the gathering looks good; insofar as it looks bad, suffers from biases and gaps, etc. — that's fully my doing.
A note on the media: The PennSound page devoted this symposium is the best place to go if you want links to segmented audio and a video recording of the entire proceeding. The Jacket2 pages featuring the final, revised text of each presentation — listed in the table of contents below — include links to audio and, where possible, to a segmented portion of the video. We have also created a page that enables anyone to use embedding code so that the video can be made available on web sites, blogs and social media sites.
A new annotated edition
Hannah Weiner’s The Book Of Revelations was composed in 1989 or shortly thereafter in a notebook given to the poet by her friend and artistic collaborator Barbara Rosenthal. This new virtual edition, assembled, annotated, and introduced by Marta L. Werner, offers a facsimile of the notebook’s pages, a diplomatic transcript of the work, and a searchable text transcript of the notebook, along with extensive notes and commentary.
A visually arresting, even iconic, document, The Book Of Revelations encourages speculation about the interplay of graphic and scriptural economies in twentieth-century poetry. Moreover, and perhaps more crucially, The Book Of Revelations bears witness to a moment in Weiner’s work when the “clair-style” we see at its apex in The Clairvoyant Journal reaches its outermost limits: while the economy, compression, and tendency towards ellipsis emblematic of Weiner’s earlier works persist in The Book Of Revelations, the dialectical tension inherent in those works is largely abandoned. At this juncture, vestiges of a former, more purely lyric style suddenly reappear, as if Weiner were seeking transient asylum in the old, incandescent melodies of works like The Code Poems while simultaneously reaching out towards a new “measure.” In The Book Of Revelations, the metrical experimentation that marks all of Weiner’s writings leads to an imagination of language’s ultimate latening and annihilation: “there’s nothing to write about.” In the strangely exilic space the notebook inhabits, we find Weiner experimenting with a form of glossolalia, a poetry heard at the moment of its enjambment with the outside. Here, writer and reader meet in their common experience of language as at once startlingly alien and profoundly intimate.
The primary materials of The Book Of Revelations are accompanied here in Jacket2 by several pieces of critical commentary: “The Landscape of Hannah Weiner’s Late Work: The Book Of Revelations,” a reading of the notebook’s stylistic features and recurring themes; “Notes on this Edition: The Book Of Revelations,” a textual introduction offering a description of the editorial methodology guiding the presentation of the work; and a number of appendices that detail Weiner’s use of misspelled, alternatively spelled, and invented words; neologisms; part-words and uncertain transcriptions; proper names; and literary and cultural allusions.
Note on the title: The unconventional capitalization of the word “Of” in Hannah Weiner’s The Book Of Revelations has been retained here. Although we cannot be certain that the capitalization is intentional, Weiner did type the title on the white label she then affixed to the notebook’s cover. The tension between the typed, all-caps title and the handwritten pages in which a capital rarely appears is provocative.
Twentieth-century Brazilian art is known for its hugely influential avant-garde and countercultural movements. One might think, for example, of the poesia concreta or concrete poetry movement pioneered by Décio Pignatari and Haroldo and Augusto de Campos in the 1950s, or of the equally subversive, cross-genre Tropicalismo or Tropicália movement led by musicians and lyricists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in the 1960s. Both movements had explicit political motivations: poesia concreta sums up its manifesto with Mayakovsky’s declaration that “without revolutionary form there is no revolutionary art.” Similarly, Tropicália’s ironic moniker captures its commitment to debunking the image of Brazil as a unified tropical paradise and revealing the brutality of life under a dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985. The poems and songs produced out of these movements are emphatically engajados: “committed.”
Contemporary Brazilian poetry, by contrast, is characterized by the absence of a prevailing poetics or political agenda, and for the poets, this freedom is exciting. If we consider other examples of postwar or postrevolutionary art, like the post-Velvet Revolution poetry of the Czech Republic or the post-Revolução dos Cravos literature of Portugual, the shift makes sense: aesthetic experiment and subjective experience merge after political dictatorships end.
What young Brazilian poets do share is a surreal twenty-first-century intimacy with things near and far. The manner in which manifold references and influences casually connect in their poems is representative of the radical openness and vast scope that Rimbaud predicted in 1871: “Enormity [will] become the Norm … absorbed by everyone.” This style is crucially enabled and informed by Brazilian traditions of anthropophagy, or cultural cannibalism, popularized by Oswald de Andrade in the 1920s and revived by Veloso and Gil in the 1960s: de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” (1928) dictates that Brazilian artists should “devour” foreign cultural elements and freely combine them with native stuff to produce something truly their own. If they remain xenophobically obsessed with “roots” and “authenticity,” they produce nothing but “macumba [voodoo] for tourists,” to use de Andrade’s famous phrase. This anthropophagic precedent, in conjunction with the forces of globalization and Internet realities that define the present moment, means that the idea of unspoiled cultural authenticity is no longer a goal for contemporary Brazilian poets. Instead, an individualized compounding process has become a primary modeof composition.
The three poets included in this feature, Angélica Freitas, Leonardo Gandolfi, and Ismar Tirelli Neto, illustrate this new, idiosyncratic mixing. Angélica Freitas shakes up Rilke in Brazilian-Portuguese English, and pushes the Concretist obsession with the Joycean “verbivocovisual” into mythic personal anecdote, bringing São Paulo localities, the history of a Brazilian political prisoner, and Gertrude Stein’s daydreams into the same stylistic register, if not the same poem. In the work of Leonardo Gandolfi, Burt Bacharach somehow knows poems by Manuel Bandeira, and has acquired a finesse for sympathetic understatement by reading Elizabeth Bishop. Ismar Tirelli Neto’s poems possess an exuberance that is part Carioca, part New York School: he shares the latter’s light-hearted attitude toward the basic impossibility of absolute or objective understanding. Like Ashbery, his collage approach embraces the possibility that understanding comes by chance, if it comes at all.
Although free of a collective poetic or political agenda, these poems nevertheless redefine the terms of the poetic and the political. At the end of Rimbaud’s prophecy, when “enormity becomes the norm,” poetry regains its inherent political and civic nature: “This eternal art will have its function since poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer accompany action but will lead it.” In Freitas’s, Gandolfi’s, and Neto’s work, we see a new poet-citizen, anthropophagically devouring the present and recombining it into new, personal forms.
Thank you to Angélica, Leonardo, and Ismar for generous feedback throughout the translation process; thank you to Ismar for collaborating on the translation of Leonardo’s poems, with perfect English; and thank you to Cassie Owens for collaborating on the translation of Angélica’s poems, bringing such helpful attention to the subtleties of their Portuguese. Thank you to Paulo Henriques Britto for extraordinary erudition and insights. Last and not least, thank you to Jacket2 international editor Sarah Dowling for her valued editorial work.