Régis Bonvicino: in his own words
On November 20, 2021, Régis Bonvicino was interviewed by Runa Bandyopadhyay (India), with Aurora Fornoni Bernardini. Organized by Ekhon Bangla Kobitar Kagaj. What follows is the script for the interview, followed by the video. Below that is a short review, published in Cuba, of Bonvicino’s most recent book.
I started very young to write what I called poetry. My first book is composed of fifteen poems (Bicho Papel, 1975), the second Régis Hotel (twenty poems, 1978). I didn’t see myself as a poet then. In 1983 I published Sósia da Cópia and then I started to see myself more as an author. When I was fourteen years old Frei Tito (tortured by the dictatorship, he killed himself in France in 1974) was my teacher. If I said that Bicho Papel was related to him, I exaggerated. I am agnostic. But the military dictatorship here was from 1964 to 1985 and marked us all. I believe that art without a critical spirit is a decorative art. Poetry now that is not questioning itself is not exactly poetry, as I see it. Life is becoming more vulnerable: this is very much present in my poems. My biggest references are Brazilian and Portuguese poets. As Portuguese is a regional language, these poets are not known. I admire several Brazilian poets, among them Carlos Drummond de Andrade and João Cabral de Melo Neto. Their work is better, in my view, than 95 percent of the poetry in English since the 1930s. American poets are part of a period of my trajectory, over the 1990s and early 2000s. But, as I have already pointed out, my references are primarily here, in Brazil. I am grateful to many American poets. I am friends with Charles Bernstein and Douglas Messerli, in particular. The anthology Nothing the Sun Could not Explain, 1997, Sun & Moon Press, made Brazilian poetry better known around the world. My work is also linked to some Fernando Pessoa, Mário de sá-Carneiro and Cesário Verde (Portuguese) and the Brazilians I mentioned. The Concrete Poetry movement was also important to me in the 1970s and 1980s: it brought several new foreign authors to Brazil and recovered great forgotten Brazilian poets such as Joaquim de Sousândrade.
THE NEW UTOPIA
(translated by Odile Cisneros)
The new utopia is a black butterfly, inattentive, with lush eyes. The new utopia is in favor of the ruthless protection of animals. The new utopia is inclusionary, participatory. The new utopia is a tuned chorus of discontent. Is a burly ex guerrilla, a government strongman. The new utopia has insider information available. It is an ex leprosy patient. The new utopia rejects the figure of Our Lady masturbating. The new utopia fights for the rights of sex work service providers. The new utopia shares, in moderation, materialistic ideals. The new utopia dies standing. It sells both duty-free items and financial detox. The new utopia is our civic duty. The new utopia praises corporate sustainability. The new utopia knows you can be an Arab and a Muslim, an Arab and not a Muslim, a Muslim and not an Arab. You can be Black without being White, White without being Black. The new utopia is Le Monde’s freedom of expression enshrined forever. The new utopia is a reckoning against the obscurantism of others. The new utopia rejects politically expedient factoids. The new utopia is a bit Shiite, only when strictly unavoidable. Is an American tourist visiting the Abu Ghraib Museum. The new utopia has logos and slogans. Denounces killings in poor neighborhoods. The new utopia condemns actions, circulates petitions; it champions graffiti; the new utopia advocates bikes. The new utopia is unconditional respect for underachievers. Condemns corrupt leaders. Is an ex crook. It uses its own dictionary. Looks before it leaps. Rejects words and calls for action. The new utopia is an ex amputee. Is an open wing in flight. Is a showroom of natural lushness. Is a sky with dark clouds under control. Is a bookcase in a bathroom. Is the widow of Jorge Luis Borges explaining his creative process. The new utopia is an ex macumba devotee, an ex drunk, an ex Exu punk. Is a whitie with a Black soul. The new utopia is also the torch-bearing Native politicking daily on social networks. The new utopia is an ex beautician with nail extensions. Is a trans spy catching some sun on a router. Is an ex savage. Is an ex bitch. Is an ex hustler. Is a lesbian. Is an ex pariah. Is a myriad of prize-winning poet franchises. Is a poem in tune with the times
The 1922 Modernism in Brazil was more powerful, more comprehensive than Concretism and Tropicália (a movement in, and of, popular music). Modernism was nationalist and concretism more cosmopolitan. There are geniuses in Modernism like Oswald de Andrade. Again, there is a problem with Portuguese as a regional language: it has no international presence. American poetry is much less constructivist in general than certain Brazilian or European poetry and it had no influence on my poetic work in this respect. The most constructivist poet I read was Robert Creeley. I think I spoke of foreign references because Latin American poets are unknown (sometimes more advanced than those of the northern hemisphere).
Luís de Camões (c.1524–1580) is a myth, a legend, a global poet, a founding-father of Portuguese. Camões has this difference from other epic poets of the Renaissance: he is closer to life. He wrote about what he saw and lived, not from fables and legends. His sources were numerous, including authors such as Ovíd, Horace, but especially Homer and Virgil. Os Lusíadas was first translated into English and published in 1655 by Sir Richard Fanshawe (1608–1666). Regarding Goa, India: tradition says that there Camões would have written part of Os Lusíadas in a Macao cave, which later took his name. On the trip back to Goa, he was shipwrecked, or so tradition tells us, at the mouth of the Mekom river, only Camões himself and his manuscript for Os Lusíadas survived. Portuguese was devoured by local languages, such as Cantonese in Macao or Hindi in India, etc. These were decolonial acts.
Cecília Meireles (1901–1964)
In this Indian context, Cecília Meireles needs to to be mentioned. She was a Brazilian poet who was a friend of Gandhi. She stayed two months in India and wrote a book called Poems Written in India (1953).
Mahatma Gandhi by Cecília Meireles
(translated from Portuguese by Dilip Loundol)
In great and solemn walls, staring,
Worshipped amid incense in the faraway bushes,
In schools, among the children who play,
Covered with flowers before the skies,
In every cow, in every shore, in the salt, in every prayer,
From top to down, from ocean to ocean, in thousands of languages,
The builder of hope, the master of freedom,
Night and day, in the wells, in the sun and in the moon,
Working, dreaming, speaking lucidly,
Speaking alive from inside death,
In the flag unfurled in a wind of music,
Cities and villages listen to him carefully:
It’s the Mahatma.
Russian cubo-futurism is the main avant-garde of the twentieth century, in my opinion. It started about 1908 and it had notorious developments, both in literature and drama (Mayakovski, Khlebnikov, Meyerhold), and in visual arts with Malevich and Tatlin. Suprematism and Constructivism reflected the libertarian ideology which guide the vanguards. They are still inspiring.
Michelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vitorio De Sica: there is not a particular work by these filmmakers that has influenced me, but rather the ideas launched by this movement right after the postwar period. There was no money, they shot the movies in the streets, they used amateur actors. Jean-Luc Godard speaks of these filmmakers as comparable to Dante and Virgil. This one is the movement I most admire.
I’ve published since 1983 several books and edited some magazines. I translated poets like Jules Laforgue, Oliverio Girondo and many others. What I can tell you is that I kept in touch with some avant-garde groups like Black Mountain College, Language Poetry (US), Diaspora (Cuba), French groups, with Bei Dao in China. I mention the Uruguayan poet Eduardo Milán, who is very important to me. I’ve always been interested in innovation (not really knowing what that means) and invention. But my poetry is made in the streets, from what I see in the streets. I could be considered an objectivist. I never speak of myself in my poetry. I keep in touch with poets around the world. I was fortunate to meet these friends. I was never interested in “official” poetry. Therefore, I expanded my field of knowledge beyond Brazil.
What is innovative poetry? Innovative poetry is that which cannot be deduced from other poems, from other authors. It is a poetry that is invented and reinvented. However, what I see today is that the poems are more and more equal to each other. I would like to ask, with Michel Foucault, what is an author? Social networks are homogenizing the world of literature. Literature was already homogeneous on a large scale. In Brazil, there is no longer talk about innovation or aesthetic invention. Innovation is considered elitist; in the past it was considered formalist. The identity agenda, the politically correct, now prevails. Poets are activists for causes of gender, race, etc. The themes started to qualify the works. The genres started to qualify the works. In a sense, everything remains the same. So, I think the question is, what is a poet-author? An author-poet? What is innovation in this kind of hell of equals? It's one thing to write poetry, it's another to write poetry. Who makes poetry today?
Ricardo Alberto Pérez
About Deus devolve o revólver (God Give Back the Revolver, 2020)
Born in São Paulo in 1955, Régis Bonvicino began publishing his poetry in the mid-1970s, with the collection Bicho papel (Paper Beast,1975). His work is notable for its radical spirit, as well as its connection to and fertile relationship with the US American poetic tradition. In this vein, his translations of poets such as Robert Creeley and Michael Palmer stand out in particular, as they go beyond being mere renderings of verse to become passionate discussions on the very essence of poetry. His profound knowledge and mastery of the Brazilian lyric poetry tradition places him in an excellent position from which to blend the sap of one tradition with the other. His poetry evinces the rare combination of an obsession with language and a desire to be on the street, involved in all manner of goings on. Emerging out of those pursuits, his poetry has evolved to reach what I would call “a mixed consciousness,” where one strand of language compensates for the other.
Without a doubt, a work that stands as a major act of radicality and conviction — through both its parodic sense and its treatment of poetry as an inheritance which the contemporary author can utilize in order to forge a kind of complicity without boundaries — is his 2015 book, A música muito além do instrumento (The Music Far Beyond the Instrument). In this work, Bonvicino uses lines culled from a quite diverse array of Portuguese language poets to realize the construction his own text. (It should be noted that the book’s title comes from a verse by Enriqueta Lisboa).
With Deus devolve o revólver (God Give Back the Revolver, 2020) (and as he paraphrases The Beatles), Bonvicino achieves a remarkable gesture of poetic action, which the Brazilian literary scene has described as “streaming poetry with sonic accompaniment.” The album is comprised of sixteen new poems read by the author, the soprano Caroline de Comi and the American poet Charles Bernstein — a frequent accomplice of Bonvicino on his adventures and his coeditor at the online journal Sibila, a project the two launched in 2001. In characterizing the essence of the texts that make up the book, Alcir Pécora writes, “We’re looking at poems that chew on the ruins of the downtowns of Brazil’s major cities, São Paulo in particular.”
The poems I offer to the readers in our language, except “Para Darly,” are from Deus devolve o revólver, and in some way, I perceive in them the sensation that Bonvicino himself used to describe his state of being at the moment he faces the poem: “I felt as if I had a nail driven into my head.”
August 2021, Havana
Translated into English by Dan Hanrahan
Originally published in Rialta.