In the second half of the twentieth century,
the domain of lyric-- in the general sense of genre-- has expanded in curious
and instigative ways far outside the bounds of conventional verse.
Poetic endeavor in Brazil has been remarkably creative and diverse, at
times with notable international projection. Makers of poetry have
drawn from graphic arts, music, interdisciplinary theory, and other non-traditional
elements in addition to literary heritage. Such exercises in lyric
difference had begun in Brazil with its modernist movement in the 1920s.
More so than in any other nation in the Americas, the avant-garde of Brazilian
modernism had a tremendous impact on cultural discourses. The prime
impetus of the modernist enterprise was poetry, which was a centerpiece
of early-century intellectual life beyond the field of literature.
Lyric remained a key frame of reference for aesthetics into mid-century,
and later, and ideas that were argued vis-à-vis poetry in the twenties
have continued to stimulate discussion. Especially with the emergence
of loquacious neo-vanguards in the late 1950s and 1960s, poetry has been
at the forefront of dispute and dialogue about numerous matters:
the nature of nationalism, the social duties of artists, the practice of
experimentalism, limits and variant uses of the arts, Brazil's place in
the international arena.
This book is about practices of Brazilian poetry in the contemporary period, from the nineteen fifties to the final decade of the century. Since informed discussion of this span depends on reference to the legacies of modernism in Brazil, an introductory chapter reviews that early-century movement to set the stage for what follows. The ensuing chapters study movements, currents, tendencies, and environments, phenomena that overlap in time and purpose. Consideration of groups, generational manifestations, and novelty here takes deliberate precedence over attention to individual authors and the late modernist verse of what has been termed "the tradition of the image." It should remain clear that the many voices of a more "standard" lyrical expression are an implicit presence throughout. After the introduction, chapters two through six concern, respectively, concrete poetry and other vanguard groups, politically committed verse in the sixties, the lyricism of popular music, strains of youth poetry in the seventies, and rethinkings of lyric in the final decades of the century. While this coverage is wide, it does not claim to be comprehensive. This book seeks to characterize the programs, problems and interrelations of poetry in varied forms, relating aesthetic factors to sociocultural milieu and addressing a number of related questions: how avant-garde, socially engaged and alternative writers grapple with the marginalized status of poetry; how they approach parameters of identity and implications of underdevelopment; how they respond to modernization and authoritarianism; and others. These discussions of the spheres of poetry explore how varieties of lyric may invoke an assumed national spirit, interrogate the status of culture during the rise of a consumer society, and react to the growing influence of electronic media. The aim of these chapters is to elucidate social and aesthetic tensions in contemporary Brazilian poetry, contrasting and evaluating the pursuit of consciousness, and, to use Jonathan Culler's title, the pursuit of signs.
The main purpose of chapter one, again, is to provide essential background about modernismo, or Brazilian Modernism, to establish fundamental points of reference for the presentation of subsequent artistic endeavors. Those figures whose voices have been most influential in the second half of the century are emphasized. To frame the necessarily condensed portrait of the modernist movement, this introductory chapter synthesizes both the old-school mindset against which the youthful nationalists rebelled in the 1920s and the reception of the poets of the Generation of 1945, who reacted against the dominant modernist aesthetic. Significant individual names in the verbal arts of the decade of transition of the 1950s are also highlighted. The present title Seven Faces is drawn from a symptomatically oppositional poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, "Poema de sete faces" (1930), which is interpreted in chapter one. This "heptagonal poem" stands as a monument in Brazilian lyric and, with its diverse yet interconnected parts and polygonal levels of suggestiveness, is an appropriate point of departure for a study such as this one that explores risk, difference, and dissonance. While the poem's spirit of multiplicity motivates the title of the book, there is no sole topical count herein nor is there any intention of a discrete co-relation between the seven strophes of Drummond's landmark modernist text and the trends taken up in the chapters.
The most substantial segment of Seven Faces is chapter two, which examines in detail the ascendance and stages of the mid-century neo-avant-garde of concrete poetry, and further weighs other experimental experiences. During the "developmentalism" of the late fifties in Brazil, the concrete poets solidified a sophisticated "verbivocovisual" poetics of invention. They would achieve, as national conditions changed in the sixties, unprecedented projection abroad. Taking the lead in a cosmopolitan movement, these artists of a peripheral country reversed the normal flow of European cultural influence. Since 1960, no other aspect of Brazilian poetry has received as much critical attention overseas. The outright distinctiveness of concrete poetry-- as a theorized verbal art-- continues to make it of special interest to an international audience. The present study extends analysis of texts, of reception, and of retrospection, into the 1990s, well beyond the limits of the bulk of extant English-language criticism. Original concretism's experimental writing and conceptual apparatus generated tremendous controversy in Brazil. The academic establishment attacked concrete poetry on literary grounds, which merit another look in the light of historical perspective. Fueled by conflict and successes alike, the creative output and critical production of the movement became inescapable points of reference for lyric in Brazil. The concrete poets forcefully aired some issues that became constants in contemporary discussions: programmatic exposition of poetry's foundations, the interplay of theory and practice, the relationship of national and international literatures, the impact of translation on original composition, interrelations of the arts and technology. From the outset, anti-experimental and committed writers charged concretism with apoliticism and lack of humanism. Yet social aspects of the movement have been downplayed and also deserve a more careful sounding.
Concern with historical consciousness and political relevance marked all the arts in Brazil's nationalist and populist period of the early 1960s. These years produced a body of literature and criticism that focused sharply on ethics, conjuncture, and change, giving rise to on-going debate about the social functions of art and making consideration of the dialectic of societal and existential factors imperative. Chapter three examines instances of committed poetry in Brazil, beginning with an account of antecedents to anti-establishment poetic discourse of the sixties. Since the Russian Revolution, engagé writing and authorial responsibility have inspired zeal at different times in different nations around the world. With both transnational and local factors in mind, this segment comprises a Brazilian case study with a declared literary bias. It investigates the objectives and outcomes of an early-sixties' project that emerged from the setting of student activism. In experimental and more conventional forms alike, participation in public discourse has proven, well after the trials of the sixties, to be an unyielding, if often sublimated, preoccupation in Brazilian lyric.
Sociopolitical metaphors were but one aspect of specialized contemporary songwriting that established a strong link between music and poetry. At home and around the world, Brazilian popular music became a truly prominent cultural practice in the nineteen sixties. Among the achievements of this field was the frequent attainment of a lyrical level of "literary quality." Significant portions of the repertories of numerous poet-composers and lyricists prompted the establishment of a topic rightly called the "poetry of song." That is the subject of chapter four, which opens with general deliberations about the treatment of song texts, as poetic as they might be, as "literary items," and with a look at Luso-Brazilian precedents to the erudite-popular musical lyricism of the sixties. Given the early experience of noted singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, it is interesting to note, in comparatist perspective, how the phenomenon of the poetry of song in Brazil was, relative to the Anglo-American realm, so much more diversified and contextually important. The star of poetry-in-music was especially bright from the late sixties to the late seventies in Brazil, but it has continued in individual instances past the eighties. An unusual, more recent manifestation of the muse further links the field of rock music to youth poetry of the seventies, as well as to the historical presence of concrete poetry and technological updates decades later.
After the experimentalism of the vanguards, the political emphases of the sixties, and the initial impact of song, new poetry in the seventies was searchful and various. Chapter five explores two broad interrelated phenomena: the eruption of so-called "marginal poetry" in a small-press boom in the 1970s, and the "constructive" approach of verbal arts and poetry associated with what has been termed "intersemiotic creation." These young and inquiring faces of contemporary poetry appeared largely under the sign of dictatorship. New production is viewed in terms of the potential for "democratization" of text-making through the proliferation of publishing facilities; behavioral response to circumstances; and the aesthetic consequences of spontaneity, permisiveness, and experimental posturing. Concurrent with the informalism of "marginal" practice, other activities illustrate the interpenetration of theory and practice following the local development of information theory, structuralism and semiotics, which began with concretism. One multi-faceted figure synthesizes and "textualizes" the shared and competing interests of this time.
The nineteen eighties would become a decade of open-ended reflection and new contextualizations. One of the prisms through which to view the late century, even in Brazil as elsewhere, is the postmodern. Following up on chapter two's revelations of cosmopolitan and utopian elements in the Brazilian vanguard, chapter six probes a pair of stirring incidents that involve the principals of concrete poetry and concern the question of postmodernism as manifested in lyric. The involvement of the concrete poets in these expressive moments of eighties' lyric is no surprise. Positing places in a "post-" ambience is of lesser importance to younger poets, who may have debated engagement vs. alienation, the status of song in lyric, or marginality vs. constructivism. Concern with postmodernist hypotheses is naturally more intense for the concrete poets, who made a special transition from modernismo to a new phase with their movement of experiment. Postmodern issues are compelling to the former leaders of the most significant neo-avant-garde in Latin America, or perhaps the West, because the continuity of liberally conceived modernist ways, the avant-garde as inventive practice, and the contemporary definition of lyric, are all in play and at stake. Chapter six features Brazilian responses to international versions of postmodernism, offers explications of a polemical (late concrete?) poetic text of the eighties, and queries a critique of that poem by a prominent Brazilian critic who, having staked a claim to a certain position of recognition in Anglo-American criticism of Brazilian literature, should have a reply in that same terrain. Uncovering and examining the circumstances and details of these Brazilian cases, hopefully, will contribute to an understanding of issues of lyric and its contexts that transcends the national level.
Within the extension of the chosen focal points of the present study, there are constants of adjustment, contrast, confrontation, and evolution. Dimensions of private emotivity are de-emphasized in favor of more public sensibilities, and that which is distinctive, setting Brazilian cases apart from those of other nations, is favored. A comprehensive account without constraints of scope or selectivity could accommodate so many additional themes and countless individuals. In each of the experiences that are explored here, the factor of difference-- be it through theoretical speculation, mode of communication, or other channels-- makes a difference. The varying proposals and kinds of poetry that come under consideration deliver a range of artistic results; all attract attention, interest, and critiques for their own reasons. With these multiple features and expressions, the faces of contemporary poetry in Brazil-- in a wide-angle view encompassing textuality, functions, innovations, and situations-- give shape to a dynamic and vibrant subject, appreciation of which surely benefits from an open-ended imagination.