BRAZILIAN POETRY JOURNALS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

University of Alberta

 

The last few years have witnessed the explosion of a number of journals on the literary scene of Brazil. This is hardly an unprecedented trend, as there exists a long-standing Brazilian tradition of literary and poetry periodicals, particularly in the twentieth century. However, the sheer volume and quality of the more recent publications –including Inimigo Rumor, Et Cetera, Cacto, Coyote, Oroboro, Ácaro, Sebastião and Sibila, to mention just a few– is a phenomenon worth pondering, as Kathrin H. Rosenfield suggested in an article published in the Folha de São Paulo in August 2003. This essay will briefly examine a variety of these print magazines, comparing and contrasting their aesthetic and implicit ideological programs through an analysis of content and layout. I will also offer an assessment of what this “inflation of the genre,” as Rosenfield calls it, might mean in terms of the current situation of poetry in Brazil.

Perhaps one should begin by mentioning that the basic precedent when it comes to Brazilian poetry journals of the last few years is Inimigo Rumor, a poetry journal begun in 1997 and currently edited in Rio de Janeiro by Carlito Azevedo, Augusto Massi, and Marcos Siscar. Since its inception, Inimigo Rumor (which borrows its title from the second book of poetry by the Neobaroque Cuban writer José Lezama Lima) has devoted its pages to a consistently rigorous selection of poetry, both in Portuguese, foreign languages and in translation. This now well-established publication, sometime recipient of support by Portugal’s Ministry of Culture, has a substantial presence across the Atlantic and currently publishes annual or biannual issues in book format (hardbound & paperback). For reasons of space and focus, a full discussion of Inimigo Rumor lies outside the scope of this essay, however, it’s fair to say that it remains, if not an important model, a clear point of reference. The trajectory and content of the issues can be surveyed online at http://www.7letras.com.br/inimigomenu.htm.

Et cetera: Literatura & Arte, published in Curitiba by the publishing house A Travessa dos Editores, issued its first “zero” number in 2003. According to the publisher, this journal’s program was “abrigar as mais variadas vozes e manifestações do continente americano: prosa, poesia, tradução, ensaios dos mais variados gêneros e entrevistas” (“to shelter the widest variety of voices and expressions of the American continent: prose, poetry, translation, essays of all kinds and interviews”). Its large format (25.5 x 27.5 cm) and visually seductive layout are reminiscent of art books or exhibition catalogs. In that vein too, issue no. 1 includes much visual material: on the cover, a rendering of an Haroldo de Campos poem by the Japanese-Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake (see Fig. 1); black and white photography by Curitiban artists Michele Müller and Nego Miranda; and poems in elegant Japanese calligraphy by the contemporary poet Tanikawa Shuntaro. The visual plethora seems to freely juxtapose original contemporary works to clichés of the history of art from Goya’s Maja desnuda to Kahlo’s self-portraits, as well as popular religious iconography, such as the Sacred Heart of Mary. In general, it is not always clear to what extent the visual is meant to deliberately interact with the verbal –whether as illustration or contrast–, except perhaps in the case of drawings by poets printed next to their own poems or visual poems (such as “La acima o céu” by cartoonist Solda, in the issue mentioned). The artsy design of the first issues is indebted to the work of artist, poet, and translator Jussara Salazar one of three original editors along with poets Claudio Daniel and Rubens Campana. In recent months, Et cetera has undergone some changes in its directorship and periodicity: since issue 5 (launched in the autumn of 2005), it is now published bimonthly and under the editorship of Fábio Campana as main editor and Rubens Campana as coordinating editor.

The verbal content of this eclectic publication also covers very wide spectrum. In issue 1, for instance, the Brazilian context, it spans established figures like the recently deceased poet Haroldo de Campos; to mid-generation writers, such as Régis Bonvicino, Antônio Risério, and Frederico Barbosa; to enfant-terribles of the new blog generation, such as Clarah Averbuck, and journalist-provocateurs , such as Paulo Polzonoff. The contrast here is stark. While de Campos leaned towards a universal, almost cosmic view of poetry in his last years, the new generation of young prose writers adopt a blasé, irreverent, and self-deprecating attitude towards “literature.” They also evince an unmediated and urgent approach to writing, perhaps an allergic reaction to the lasting legacy of rigorous architectural and engineering paradigms in the history of the Brazilian literary avant-garde. Interestingly, the open-ended and improvisatory quality of their texts fits in more with the relaxed editorial work of the journal. In poetry, among the most interesting younger voices in the issue examined here (No. 1) are Joca Reiners Terron, author of poetic narrative s in lineated prose which employ medical vocabulary, and Rodrigo de Haro with his haunting child-like poems, Andanças de Antônio.

Another important feature of this journal is the considerable presence of Spanish American voices, including established poets such as José Kozer and Eduardo Milán and young Argentine poets. Curiously, for the most part, Spanish-language poetry is printed as is, without Portuguese translation. The connection with the Spanish-language context is mostly due to Jussara Salazar’s long-lasting dialogue with poets in Argentina, which enables Et cetera to circulate not only throughout Brazil, but also in Hispanic America. This is an exciting feature of these new initiatives because , until not too long ago, the Hispanic American and Brazilian poetries in certain ways had turned their backs on one another. Along the lines of Et cetera’s promotion of poetry in other languages, issue 5 contains an extreme case of linguistic “xenofilia”: “Kelita Batsak,” Hebrew poems by the multi-lingual Brazilian poet Moacir Amâncio, are printed in Hebrew with no corresponding Portuguese translation.

Contrasting sharply with Et cetera’s colorful visual and literary eclecticism, Cacto a journal, founded in 2002, evokes instead the sharp, rugged qualities of desert flora, which appropriately fit its visually sparse aesthetic: the review contains little or no illustrations and only occasional attention to typography. The Spartan, almost minimalist cover of the first issue (see Fig. 2) humorously echoes the motto of the associated book collection, “cacto: áspero, intratável” (“cacto: rough, intractable”), as well the concrete poetry aesthetic in the covers of the 1960s antologia noigandres (see Fig. 3). This is hardly a coincidence–the journal, edited by Eduardo Sterzi and Tarso de Melo in São Paulo, inscribes itself in a tradition of high modernist aesthetics. In lieu of a manifesto, the “Apresentação” (“Foreword”) explains that Cacto (whose original title was to be the more psychoanalytic-sounding Totem) was deliberately launched to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Semana de 22, as well as the centenaries of the modernists Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda. Furthermore, the entire first issue is symbolically (and literally) framed by the concrete poetry legacy: it opens with an unpublished poem by Augusto de Campos and closes with an interview with this poet as well. It is significant that these affinities and consciousness of predecessors are clearly spelled out as well as an acknowledgement of more recent traditions, such as the aforementioned Inimigo Rumor.

What is Cacto’s program? In the words of the editors, to present living foreign authors such as José Kozer and Michel Deguy as well as “inéditos dos mais significativos poetas contemporâneos brasileiros” (“unpublished work by the most significant contemporary Brazilian poets”) (“Apresentação” 5). The selection clearly focuses on Brazilian poets, interspersed with translations of classics (Heine, Malherbe, Jarry, Alighieri, Joyce, and Langston Hughes), and contemporary Mexican and Chicano poets (Coral Bracho and Tino Villanueva). About one quarter of the issue is devoted to essays on poetry and poetics including the Italian philosopher Giorgo Agamben’s “O fin do poema,” (“The end of the poem”) a study on the endings of poems, and other essays on translations and on established figures such as Carlos Drummond and Augusto de Campos. In its apparent rigor and conciseness, this publication implicitly proposes a poetics under the sign of high modernism and the concrete legacy, even if some of the poets included do not adhere to or even react adversely to it. Another significant feature of Cacto’s is that it was financed by subscriptions of collaborators and friends, instead of being subsidized by a successful publishing house, as is the case of Et cetera. In this respect, it seems to be conscious of targeting a specific audience and creating a committed community of readers.

The issue of financing can be an interesting angle from which to consider these publications; in other words, one may speculate about the effect that the sources and amount of funding may have on the production and program of literary magazines. For instance, the review Coyote (reaching its 12th issue in 2005) is subsidized primarily by the Municipal Ministry of Culture and the City of Londrina. So, aside from being publicly funded (which may be responsible for its didactic aims), in comparison with the expensive printing format, Coyote appears instead as a relatively low-budget publication, which, nonetheless, pays relative attention to graphic design. The cover of the issue considered in this essay, No. 7 (see Fig. 4), is printed in color while the rest is of the issue is black and white and length-wise runs a mere 51 pages long. This may also be due to the periodicity, as it is published 4 times a year. The editors of this journal are Ademir Assunção, Marcos Losnak, and Rodrigo Garcia Lopes, who don a variety of hats as interviewers , translators, and writers of the intro notes to the material, but don’t feature their own original work prominently.

As regards the visual aspects of the journal, the layout is appealing, but not groundbreaking or significant in its own right, seeming rather to attempt a balance between an “artsy” look and a functional use of space. To that effect, in issue 7, for instance, the original poems of Frank O’Hara are printed in a smaller font and with slashes indicating line breaks, whereas the translations by Rodrigo Garcia Lopes, feature prominently on the page. Also, as seems to be the case in a number of Portuguese language publications, the translation is published to the left of the original, rather than the traditional (left-original, right-translation) format. Other aspects of the graphic layout are the inclusion of photographs of some of the authors, but hardly any other original artwork.

The content of Coyote reflects a certain didactic and disseminatory eclecticism, showcasing translations and short essays the work of high modernist and other foreign classics. Issue 7, for instance features Frank O’Hara, William Burroughs, George Bataille, the Marquis de Sade, and the contemporary Uruguayan poet Víctor Sosa, as well as the work of living Brazilian writers. For the most part, the Brazilian writers and artists (names such as André Sant’Anna, Claudio Daniel, Maria Esther Maciel) were born between 1961 and 1979, but space is also granted to writers from previous generations such as the poet Luiz Roberto Guedes (b. 1951) and the playwright José Agrippino de Paula (b. 1940). Geographically, contributors hail from Goiânia (Caio Mera) to Paraná, passing through Minas Gerais and, inevitably, São Paulo. There is however a very clear consciousness of the geographical setting of this publication, reflected in a statement by the playwright and poet Maurício Arruda Mendonça. He claims that Londrina “tem uma poesia de excelente qualidade, surpreendente até”(“has an excellent poetry, even surprisingly so”), quoting as evidence writers such as Mário Bortolotto and Miriam Paglia Costa (34). Interestingly, Arruda Mendonça goes on to argue that, because of their setting, writers in Londrina have developed “um certo cosmopolitismo, não uma poesia que se filia umbilicalmente ao modernismo de Oswald e de Mário, por exemplo” (“a certain cosmopolitanism, not a poetry that has an umbilical affilition with the modernism of Oswald [de Andrade] and Mário [de Andrade]”). He also notes that local poetry exhibits “um namoro firme com a poesia oriental” (“a steady love relationship with East Asian poetry”) due in part to the sizable Japanese community of Londrina. It would be interesting to put Arruda Mendonça’s affirmations to the test, something that issue 7 of Coyote does not seems to fully achieve.

Oroboro: Revista de Poesia e Arte is another fledgling magazine hailing from the state of Paraná, also sponsored by the government of the City of Curitiba and special municipal legislation devoted to the promotion of culture. Launching it’s first issue in the third quarter of 2004, Oroboro, edited by Eliana Borges and Ricardo Corona, exhibits a format, length, and content not unlike Coyote’s. The 52-page inaugural issue, also features a color cover (see Fig. 5) and black and white artsy design with illustrations. The content also features interviews, essays, poems, and translations, perhaps taking greater risks in including, for example, the work of multi-media performance and spoken-word artist Edwin Torres, an idiosyncratic personality straddling both the more erudite American avant-gardes and the more socially-conscious and marginal Nuyorican production. The appearance of this poet’s work in a Brazilian little magazine seems particularly notable, because, although Brazil’s Tropicalist movement in the 60s and 70s also questioned the high/low divide and disciplinary boundaries, for some reason, most avant-garde poets in Brazil took their cue from canonical high-modernist models, not paying much attention to work of peripheral scenes, such as that of the Nuyorican Poet’s Café. Another interesting surprise is also the inclusion in issue 5 of Oroboro (Sept.-Nov. 2005) of a dossier on the work of poet Ricardo Aleixo, a black poet from Minas Gerais who has occasionally collaborated with Edimilson de Almeida Pereira. Aleixo, who began publishing in 1996, explores the rich mine of African elements in Brazilian popular culture, particular the religious cult of the Orixas and Yoruba language, to produce an avant-garde poetics with a consciousness of racial issues, another controversial topic that Brazilian avant-garde poetry has traditionally shied away from.

Another young publication, Ácaro (“mite,”or “tick”) currently edited by Chico Mattoso and Paulo Werneck (both under 30), stands for two specific features: its visual qualities and its amusing content. This journal has an appealing format –the slim magazine is enclosed in an elegantly printed sleeve— with a sleek graphic design: it contains numerous illustrations and is printed in different colors and on different kinds of paper (for the cover of issue 1, see Fig. 6). The content displays a programmatic and irreverent sense of humor: a number of short narrative texts, mostly dealing the fantastic, funny, and erotic topics ; a selection of poetry by Alexandre Barbosa de Souza, Heitor Ferraz, Sérgio Alcides, João Inácio, Rafael Pelota, Luiz Ruffato, and Tatiana Belinky; a satiric take on fast food (a regular column titled “Reflexões do Senhor Ótimo”); and a series of illustrated rebus-type poems, “Charadinhas simplórias.”

The main parodic feature of this São Paulo-based little magazine is the insert “Menas!”, a humorous twist on the Estado de São Paulo’s Suplemento “Mais!”. The texts in this “suplemento,” printed on a different sized paper, are signed by fictitious authors who do not appear on the list of credits at the end. These entertaining little texts include “Bacanal (Pentalogia monovocálica)” (“Bacchanal: Monovocalic Pentalogy”), a witty short story written using only words with the vowel “a,” an experiment continued in issue 3, with the letter “e” and which recalls Oulippian texts based on self-imposed literary constraints. Finally, the “Menas!” supplement of issue 2 closes with a parodic homage to Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s celebrated poem “No meio do caminho” [“In the Middle of the Road”], to which almost every Brazilian poet has contributed a spoof. Ácaro is also characterized by the tongue-in-cheek self-referentiality of the early modernist magazines. One could parallel, for instance, Ácaro’s credits section titled “Acareação” (literally “confrontation, challenge, encounter,” but also an obvious phonetic play on the title) to Klaxon’s call to be a “klaxista” (Klaxist) or Revista de Antropofagia’s reference to its issues as “dentições” (dentitions). On the more serious end of things, Paulo Henriques Britto contributes an illuminating essay on the use of the second- and third-person pronouns in Nelson Rodrigues in the skillful portrayal of the colloquial in his plays. Excellent translations of modern and contemporary poets such as Apollinaire, Supervielle, and Juarroz are also found in Ácaro’s pages.

Sebastião, a journal edited by Matias Mariani, Paulo Ferraz, and Pedro Abramovay, published its second number in 2002. No new number has since appeared. The idea of this journal, whose name pays homage to Sébastien Gryphe, a 16th-century typographer and printer from Lyon was “grifar” (to put in boldface type), i.e., to showcase the variety of contemporary Brazilian poetry. The first issue’s eclecticism, both in terms of content and graphic design, gave way to a fairly programmatic second issue where a number of critics were expressly invited to write on a specific poet chosen by the editors. The editors presented this dialogue they deemed necessary and unlikely to happen otherwise, as the (anti)program they expressly lay out in their editorial: “O que queremos é fomentar o debate, ouvir lados opostos, abrir espaço para métodos diversos de análise e de criação, e não necessariamente eleger um paradigma crítico e poético como o ideal, tanto que a revista traz poetas que não estariam juntos se o critério fosse outro. Damos espaço para que se defendam as correntes que houver” (“What we want is to encourage the debate, hear opposing views, open up a space for diverse analytical and creative paths, and not necessarily pick a critical and poetic paradigm as an ideal, so much so that this review brings together poets that would not be together if the criteria were different”). The essays thus dialogued with or interrogated a set of poems, a feature ingeniously illustrated on the cover of issue 2 that shows a fictitious map where a street with name of the essayist intersects with that of the poet (see Fig. 7). The quality of the essays, on the whole, varies, sometimes giving way to impressionist parallel texts that fail to closely examine the texts at hand, but instead spin out an independent, tangential tale. Whatever the result, the idea was to provide, within a structured format for the issue, an open and flexible discussion, a new set of views or “Novos olhos sobre a poesia brasileira” (“New eyes on Brazilian poetry”), an expression I borrowed as title for this essay.

Finally, last but not least, is the journal Sibila, whose founder was São Paulo poet Régis Bonvicino along with Brasília-based essayist Romulo Valle-Salvino. I was invited to collaborate as editor starting with the second number. Currently, the two co-editors are Bonvicino and Alcir Pécora, a literary critic and UNICAMP Professor, with my occasional editorial assistance. It might seem that given my involvement in Sibila, I might not be in a position to impartially examine its merits and shortcomings. But leaving Sibila outside of the discussion would probably be an artificial omission, a fault greater than whatever bias may stem from a lack of critical distance.

Sibila has clearly evolved from the circa 80 pp of its 0 inaugural issue launched in the spring of 2001 to over 200 pp in a double issue (8-9) published in November 2005 (see Fig. 8), which also includes a CD of sound poetry. It is a handsomely designed magazine that strands graphically in the middle—featuring original artwork and illustrative photography as well as striking covers but not allowing the visual to interfere or distract from the verbal. Images are almost never printed next to or as illustrations of poems. Sibila has a number of semi-regular sections, for instance “Pares contemporâneos” (“Contemporary Pairings”), which has featured interviews or dialogues with international and Brazilian intellectuals of the stature of Marjorie Perloff, Michael Hardt, Eliot Weinberger, Carlos Zílio, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Jerome Rothenberg, and Charles Bernstein. The presence of international voices in Sibila is abundant and noteworthy. For one thing, world poets are given as much space (if not more) than local production. Russian, Peruvian, Mexican, German, French, Italian, Argentine, Cuban, American, Swedish and Czech poets, among others, have appeared in its pages. It is Sibila’s editorial policy to almost always print the poems in the original and in translation, even in the case of a language as close to Portuguese as Spanish. Another policy has been to give space to other manifestations of Portuguese outside Brazil and Portugal, with a couple contributions from Macau. Sibila’s main mandate, however, has been the question of innovation, however, as with most publications, the content has occasionally fallen short of this ideal. Still, it has often sought to feature little-known authors and unpublished or hard-to-find materials (a note by Lúcio Costa, a short story by Mário de Andrade, drawings and texts by Flávio de Carvalho, etc.). One notable piece published in Sibila No. 7 (2004), is the essay by Alcir Pécora “Momento Crítico: Meu Meio Século” (“Critical Moment: My Half-Century”), where the critic, on the occasion both of his 50th birthday and a coincidental invitation to participate in the launch of a didactic volume on contemporary literature published by Folha, does his own rigorous stock-taking of the high and low moments of the current literary scene of Brazil, taking precisely as his foil the said volume.

After this whirlwind tour of some of the main little magazines of Brazil at the moment, it might be a bit premature to offer weighty pronouncements, but a few concluding observations might be in order. One would be that quantity is not necessarily reflective of quality. The explosion might well be significant in that a wide and abundant variety of work has emerged of which, however, a great deal, with time, may prove expendable. Another interesting trend seems to be the deliberate affiliation that some publications seek with models from the past. Even if it seems impossible nowadays to affirm the kind of uncompromising rupture that the historical vanguards such as modernismo and concretismo effected in their day, the current environment evidences not Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” but, ironically, a “pride of influence” a concept coined by the critic Paulo Franchetti and quoted in a recent essay by Ademir Demarchi.

The question still remains of how this unavoidable trace of influence may be transformed into something new, original, worthwhile and effectively responding to the current circumstances of its production. Although in hindsight we might now see this as somewhat naïve, it’s not useless to recall, for instance, that concrete poetry emerged partly as a response to the climate of optimism under Juscelino Kubitschek and the slogan “Brasil, o país do futuro,” alongside new technological trends in cybernetics and in opposition to outdated models employed by the Generation of 1945. The subsequent generation of so-called “Poesia Marginal,” was also highly aware of the climate of repression during Brazil’s 20-year military dictatorship. Accordingly, it might make sense to ask how the poetic production published in these magazines is reacting to the current artistic, technological, social, and political climate. Is the question of creating new vocabulary, a groundbreaking diction a real preoccupation for the young poets in these publications? In many cases, one would be tempted to respond in the negative. However, the newgeneration of blog writers and poets not discussed in this essay but who incorporate digital media in their work are a clear indication that the content and style of literary production is not immune or indifferent to changes in media and the social and political environment.

Finally, it appears that, rather than promoting a single line of poetics, i.e., a deliberate and specific program, most magazines prefer to negotiate a variety of influences. This may be a salutary change from former trends perceived as rigid or militant. However, in promoting this “openness,” magazines also run the risk of diluting their criteria and falling instead into an amorphous eclecticism or a certain naïve didacticism. Despite these shortcomings, however, we must admit that, overall, there seems to be in Brazil today a new and exciting publishing dynamic worth keeping an eye on.