1. CONSUMER CHRONICLE: THE BURNT-OUT LIGHT BULB OF POETRY | One day of chronicling can’t do anyone any harm, walking down the streets, venturing a little beyond the uncut vertigo of imagination, daring to experience a life other than your own, a kind of stay without staying, sensing with the whole of the spirit what the world would be like if you weren’t in it there and then. Of course, this invariably involves assuming that my stay in the world is relevant. None other exists: man is shipped from the factory with this feeble arrogance. The term is appropriate, as everything has become a product. In a world peopled by consumers, no distinction exists any longer between buyers and sellers, because everyone operates in, or rather is operated on by, the market, after all: what sets us apart is a merely time-related datum: when we are buyers and whenwe are sellers. So that our personality is measured by the time spend in one and the other positions. Not even this much: we now allow ourselves this much ambiguity, that is we are and are not all at once. Which means that we have abolished the primal concept of individuality as a characteristic that generates a diverse environment in terms of trends, perceptions, interpretations, etc.
There. You have to look at the details, that’s all. For example, knowing whether friendship can serve as an aspirational product. Living with greater freedom means not believing in anything anymore, not sharing opinions, radicalizing the status of our solitary condition in the world. Erasing every trace of concepts such as reliability and open disagreement. This is what lies behind the mask of an interview with David Shah,  the amenable English trends consultant that, by diagnosing the end of fashion, leads us to a question: does extinction of the habit extinguish the culture as a whole? How, then, to be a theologian of nothing in a land of nothing? What are David Shah’s habits? What does he wear? With whom does he meet? Who does he trust? In this interview, he makes an apology of “recontextualization”, something that is not as simples as rearranging the furniture around a room, but, in the end, essentially this. Metaphors create their ambiguities and wretchedly yearn for belonging, and this is precisely where they show what they are: devoid of belonging.
Brazilian poets feel like disciples of David Shah. Yes, of course, this would be the first reaction of a Brazilian poet, since I, too, am Brazilian and a poet. But things are not resolved – in anyone’s favor – this simply. After all, the dilemma is not limited to the behavior of Brazilian poets. In a passage of the interview, Shah asserts: “These days, most products look the same and have basically the same quality, be they Japanese, Korean or British. To tell them apart, you have to assign a personality to them.” This, the angle of consumerism, is very similar to an undeclared angle of poetry making in Brazil. I recall what Ademir Demarchi once told me at a table in the Goethe Institute,  in the sense that Brazilian poets had attained admirable technique. True, given the operating standards, the standards of circulation as accepted by critique – now restricted to the domain of academic analysis –, they all right correctly, with proper syntax, the appropriate pauses, etc. Then need we apply the Shah method, that is, assign a personality to them? Nor quite, since what we are talking about is, first and foremost, the acceptance that this poetry has become a product and nothing more. That this is its other field of operations. And then evoke the publishing market’s trends, etc. It is not important, at this point, to follow the trail of Brazilian poetry per se, as much as the behavior of our intellectuals. Hoe do we react on the face of crises? How do we accept them? How do we pass them by in an exercise of alienation?
Every time a headline claims, “Fashion is no more”, we are led to think of parallels like “Orgasm is no more”, “Poetry is no more”, and so on and on. Every day, the press has to say that something is no more in order to be able to resuscitate it the next day. Journalisms do not know any more about journalism that poets do, they just have infinitely more space to exercise their perversion. One point in common between journalists and lawyers is that the heart of the matter is never limited to concepts such as truth and justice, but to their outcome: winning a case. A headline is a win when it comes to the press. We live in a highly predictable world where TV news, for example, confirms a sour ambiguity between what it reports and the mood it engenders. In some cases, it is almost like a summons: in spite of the world we show you, do have hope. But all this is because we must go on selling. This is where David Shah is most ruthlessly right: “You can have every idea you want – it’s very easy to be creative. What’s hard is to start making what you imagined and putting it out on the street to see if it sells.” That is, everything boils down to sales technique, as the aesthetic condition has presumably been conveniently resolved.
The accurate question, then – since everything is a matter of targeting –, would be: what are Brazilian poets selling? As early as 1997, Jair Ferreira dos Santos suspected: “hybrid and superficial in character, post-modern poetry (or any other poetry) appears to be headed towards the irrelevant and the ghostlike as a cultural creation and a market product,” and even cast it in a noble role when he said that “perhaps it is fated to complete the transit of the corpse of poetry as an institution into its resurrection as a hobby, a tribal plaything, a prop within taste subcultures,” and adding that “in this new status, it will resemble stamp collecting, coin collecting”.  At the same time, Dante Lucchesi, another observer, notes that “post-modern society, by becoming a nebula of every possible language, depletes the signification power of language as it objectifies it, instrumentalizes it, turns it into a mere accessory that an artist, a fashion designer or an advertising professional can use without committing and for purely pragmatic purposes”.  How unbelievably easily we all fall prey to a system! Let us add, then, to our list of chaotic statements the cataclysmic “History is no more”. I was always so fascinated by Barthes’s suggestion that we should challenge every idea received… Should not a poet be on this planet for this precise purpose? Two decades before the previously mentioned Brazilians, Elias Canetti already warned that “no one today can be a poet if they do not seriously doubt their right to be one,” pointing out the “perverse banality” that would take over our stay in the world. 
The biggest dilemma was yet to come, as the objectification Lucchesi evoked no longer affects language alone, but poets themselves, who were not able to deny themselves in time, to transgress, to give up the cult of self based on which they ended up imagining the sole purpose of their existence. They are become the thing itself, “props in taste subcultures”, partygoers, events buffs, etc., where poetry no longer means anything. If perchance their enterprise resembles stamp or coin collecting, perhaps it is only due to the collecting aspect, collections, in this case, of facets, of eloquent gestures to compensate for the reading of innocuous verses, for example. Or perhaps they are compilers of exercises in charisma for the strategic articulation of the new brand they are interested in: themselves. Which brings us back to Mr. Shah, according to whom “brands become like families, they give consumers stability, an identity,” and, in sum, “replace the Church and the actual family.” Therefore, a poet’s collection is an accessory to his added value.
Clearly, it is no longer appropriate to talk about post-modernity, except in terms of “recontextualization,” and we must once again look from Shah’s angle when he points out the importance of “tearing down the barriers between disciplines like fashion, lighting, sportswear, cars, and starting to think of it all as a single thing.” But poets made precisely the contrary choice by isolating themselves behind a curtain of language without paying any heed to other frameworks or disciplines. I don’t know if this is the appropriate spot for Roland Barthes’s distinction between contrary and inverse – “contrary destroys, inverse strikes a dialogue and denies” –, but it is interesting to walk though his reasoning: “it seems to me that only an inverted writing that includes at once straightforward language and its challenger (let us say, to summarize: its parody) can be revolutionary.”  The fact is that poets have challenged the logic of the market, for example, but failed to invert it. They simply rejected it instead of transgressing. Which allowed it to come back solemnly hallowed by the argumentative disarticulation of its challenging ideal. An not eve this much, as no response was forthcoming. They cleared the way for the unstoppable momentum of consumerism, with which poets started to identify themselves.
But where do poets learn how to be people? In the transmission of knowledge, technique, fascinations, dreams. There is a certain value in facing off pragmatism, as satisfaction is self-fulfilling therein. Still, there is something in poets and the language they embody that is open to practical applications. Poets must be willing to change the burnt-out light bulb of language, for example. And doing so requires understanding that they are nothing if they do not share worlds, and fail to apply their knowledge to the world they inhabit. Is the term ‘revolutionary’ still applicable? It will always depend on the poet at hand. First and foremost, poets must learn how to challenge themselves. If they will then be able to renew processes, enigmas, desires, well, who would dare make such a prediction in a land laid waste by its stakeholders?
Although poets have become a consumer item, Shah’s general assessment that “the taste for ostentation is at a low” and that “we are going back to the notion of intelligence s a luxury item” does not apply to them. At times, the flame of the spirit is but a gimmick. Ostentation has shifted from the language to the poet, to such an extent that verses have become mere formal handicraft devoid of meaning. Poets, in their turn, do have meaning, shining as a result of their luxurious wit, rather than of their actual intelligence. They are not in harmony with the world around them, but rather put themselves on display as if they were above and beyond all eyes. They are professional, detached, and at the same time charismatic, with the pathetic airs of established brands. Poets are glory itself, even if glory fails to acknowledge them. People inside the void and outside of themselves. If only they were someone inside the doubt! Poetry has lost track of the myth, simply because poets one day awoke concerned only with what to wear or not to wear.
And so the business of trends had space to evolve. Not that it didn’t exist before. The business of creation itself was always there. One somehow opposed the other. The challenging presence of the artist enabled the fault line to move forward. But when the “celebrity factor” emerges, for certain the insurance policy business is put at ease. An actress’s breast, the foot of an athlete, and… what might poets insure? A check-mate is sometimes so easy to play. They no longer had the myth, the magical knowledge, the integrity, the least notion of humanism, their language had been entirely taken over by a ghost, so that the unfailingly nice lady at the policy applications counter told them: you are worth nothing. Poets didn’t even have the memory of the last verse they wrote. As a response to the clerk, they finally attempted: can’t we insure the aspirational products we are?
We laugh at all of this, but parody is missing. So is a myth after consideration and incorporation, so is discussion, dialogue. Under no circumstance is one to fear the ridicule one subjects him or herself to. The notion of surprise and excitement as advanced by Shah only applies to marketing. He advances into an area left unguarded by poets. A clever, smart man who knows more about poets – not about poetry – than any one of us. He puts his chips on our constant selfishness, on a laissez-faire both linguistic and existential, and his proposed “recontextualization” is not more than a project aligned with the safekeeping of his occupation: “to place familiar objects and ideas in a different environment to create surprise and excitement.” Perhaps the principle of poetic creation may lie somewhere near. But it is consumerism we are talking about. What would a poet have to say about this?
When this conversation began, I was walking down some street, back in the first paragraph, and it was interesting to think that the inspiration for this article had nothing to do with a movie I watched a few days ago, Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten (2004), where there is an apparent reflection on the emotional bond between parents and children, but in which it seemed to me that something more substantial shone through the plot: the entirety of knowledge is self-nullifying and cannot be shared. I walked down the street and imagined one thousand ways to be in or on it. It is what I have been doing with every line, with every step in my life. Where are the “Church and the real family” that we have lost, according to Shah? We don’t even know this much. To what purpose are poets on this planet? To write the most beautiful lines this evening? But have they not been written yet? Do poets want still more beauty? Let them live, then. Let them pull out of themselves the supreme beauty of being, against every luxury brand and the childish discourse of behavioral consultants. In a nutshell, let them become unpredictable.
2. THE DANCING GHOST | After all, was Jelly Roll Morton really the inventor of Jazz, or just a remarkable Blues pianist? Or perhaps the question is ill-phrased and it would be more appropriate to ask: was Jelly Roll Morton a remarkable Blues pianist or just the inventor of jazz? The Jazz Jelly Roll Morton invented in New Orleans in 1904 spread to brothels and other nightclubs until 1923, when he cut his first album.
One year later and on the other side of the Atlantic, the first Surrealist manifesto appears. Two decades later, André Breton would refer to the collage Max Ernst had invented as “an absolutely pristine visual organization proposal,” and mention, at the same time, that it corresponded in terms of poetry to what Lautréamont and Rimbaud had sought. Was Max Ernst the inventor of collage, then, or just a remarkable painter equipped with scissors and paste?
He himself said that another celebrated Surrealist, René Magritte, was the author of countless hand-painted collages. Jelly Roll Morton knew that the Creole culture was the distinctive trait of the Jazz he had invented. Like Max Ernst, he knew that it is not paste that defines collage. Ernst, who started out a painter, had always admitted to a desire to go beyond paint.
The range of techniques Max Ernst assimilated or discovered has some connection with the range of musical styles Jelly Roll Morton evoked or embodied through the piano. They both knew that the instrument the used was not the piano or glue per se. How to separate, in Max Ernst or Jelly Roll Morton, what is scrubbing, gospel, drypoint, ragtime, etching, blues, Africa, the Caribbean, vision, obsession? Would it be appropriate to sum it all up a total collage or automatic writing? There is no justice or correction in the realm of artistic reception. An intentional catchphrase may enshrine itself and spend centuries supreme and unchallenged. The history books that have fed that past four or five generations are full of facts that no longer match reality.
I introduce the term (reality) as if to suggest wherein lies the heart of the problem: under no circumstance is this about a unique condition: nothing is more multifaceted and diverse and circumstantial than reality. Jelly Roll Morton did not invent Jazz. Max Ernst did not invent collage. Perhaps they never ventured beyond an attempt to strike a balance between composition and improvisation. They didn’t want to be partners with either God or the Devil. Jelly Roll Morton’s habanera piano beat in the first decade of the 20th century was foresight in much the same way as Max Ernst’ collage novel. In both cases, there was no breakthrough in terms of narrative consistency, but rather a different way of perceiving connections (here we go) between being and time.
The fact that there is a “partially logical” element to Max Ernst’s collages may stimulate a contradiction relative to automatic writing. To this day, Surrealism suffers the effects of this misreading. Is t he collage of styles in Jelly Roll Morton enough to invent Jazz? How far can Jazz be defined exclusively as an unbridled stream of improvisation?
The realities that accumulated around Jazz and collage over the first half of the 20th century led to an odd circumstance that, presents itself in the 1960s. An intriguing decade, and full of inventors. John Coltrane polytonal music, the stage-design effects evoked by Joseph Beuys, the eradication of the harmonic mesh in Ornette Coleman’s free jazz, as well as a frustrated preview of an anarchism that would lose elements in the alchemical melting pot in which the spectacle society and May ’68 struggled against each other, without realizing, at that point, that they were Siamese twins.
Poor Max Ernst. Poor Jelly Roll Morton. Their remarkable call for the need for the permanent merger of composition and improvisation was once again cast aside for one obsession or another: now composition, now improvisation. There was no surrealism anymore, then. Surrealism has always been deaf, and missed out on a lot as a result. Although Joyce Mansour said that it is not a certain pictorial technique that can be understood as Surrealist, but rather the painter, that is, as he saw it, Surrealism had discarded some of its most important elements in the painting realm due to its reluctance to accept that behind every outlook on life lies a technique in which it manifests itself.
Subversion is a technique, too. As are dialectics, vertigo and recklessness. Reality demands talent. It discards the inventor of Jazz and preserves the remarkable Blues pianist. Are we all an invention of reality or simply its remarkable players?
And so it was that in the 1960s techniques multiplied out of control and narrative tension was no more. Political convulsion, racial conflict, anarchism, labor union riots, they all met on the same playing field as harmonic discontinuity, melodic exoticism, installations, body art, the forefathers of multimedia, minimalism, etc. The shooting was random. And the sole target was, perhaps, the one on the conductor’s crosshairs. The Broadway style of picking dancers for the season. Could it be this simple?
René Magritte then pointed out that technique is indispensable to make a work visible, but has no importance beyond the medium. He also emphasized that excessive interest in technique is stupid (this is how he referred to the topic). René Magritte defined painting as thought that sees. We somehow survived the 20th century and subversion converted, in many cases, to subservience. We no longer have Jazz inventors or even remarkable Blues pianists. The spectacle society foretold in the 1960s became so enshrined that we abolished the composition/improvisation duality and replaced it with a shapeless mass that limits sensitivity instead of honing it. The ball is still in the air as to whether a way of painting remains these days, or if everything has turned into the producers’ vision.
What is the actual time we inhabit with our creations?
The ghost of Jelly Roll Morton hovers about me, always dancing with Max Ernst’s. An agenda full of cutouts that are shortcuts whose guide or password is more than a way out. Solution as a consequence rather than a goal.
This is how language strikes me.
Free from the fixation on permanent updating. Intensely dedicated to natural labor/childbirth. No forceps or C-sections, absent of the commercial drive that muddles the tasks of medicine, a loss of principles that art, too, decided to adopt. No brutality exists that is greater than alienation. Pay attention to the world, to yourself, to everything around us. All dreams are real, as Artaud used to maintain.
Where does my thinking wander? Across seas of different spirits, rivers of charmed shadows and also pools of blood that mark certain choices we do not accept as such. Metaphors of all kinds that often serve as intellectual goads, but become dull, worn-out mechanisms, if we fail to insult them into giving up this stubbornly unique condition and cast themselves beyond themselves… beyond all metaphor.
Telling the body of the desired woman lying on the grass to be more than just the body of desire. Or telling the furniture that the eyes graze, however tangible reality may be, to venture forth and find a way to be at once palpable and unpredictable.
Of course there are times when the authentic and the false share a bed. And then, will it still make sense to tell them apart? We are not exactly Good or Evil, but, first and foremost, the manner in which we let ourselves be driven by both, how we reveal ourselves in the annoying precision with which these forces become entwined.
It is not the similarity between man and God that should concern us, but his similarity to himself. How we articulate desire and hypocrisy, for example. The word “shame” is an expletive, the great aberration that conceals our inhumanity. Therefore, there is no fraud greater than beauty. If I referred to the magnificent illusion of liberty, perhaps it would be easier to accept what I am saying. But there is no difference between the two parameters.
The case of Robert Mapplethorpe remains a paradigm to this day. His nudes ranged from the sublime to the pornographic, or better put, from female to male. The intense relationship between volume, shadow, suggested movement, angle, etc., remained unseen when what stood before the eyes was the male genitalia, either erect or flaccid, either awake or inattentive. Not even women came in his defense.
And so, therefore, beauty is an attribute of women, not of the feminine. A fetish with a scope set forth in law. A moral law. The law that renders any and all forms of judgment of the other secondary. It is no good to invert values and say something like “beautiful like a defeated army,” as Joyce Mansour did.
Strictly speaking, whenever we try to touch beauty what we get is a reality shock to educate us on its moral limits. Breton was right to say that beauty is not found on any inert point, but rather in life itself. Of course. It is what all of us have of most intense. It is our great truth. The most precious attribute of perfection. The perfection of love, the perfection of crime, the perfection of delusion. The best things we do in life, we do in the name of beauty.
And so we can understand what Joyce Mansour said and echo her by saying: beautiful like planes crashing against the twin towers. May I not? There, too, an army was defeated.
Max Svanberg once said that “in order to achieve clear beauty, you must, I believe, be aware, until suffering, of the terrible presence of death.” What beauty is it that we yearn for then: a beauty of half circumstances? There is a clear bookish refinement in perfection. This is no longer about the banality of evil, but the ambiguity of good. Perhaps the only possible source of beauty is of a cosmetic nature, and its cynical glory: the cult of the deformity of being to serve the most convulsive of all beauty treatments: the marketplace of emotions.
A more intense relationship between art and beauty does not exist in our day. All of it sounds outdated because, far before than art, religion and science resorted to the same methods. But since we still insist on shining the spotlight on the creation of beauty, since we still insist on the sublime dimension of beauty, let us then recall that nothing survives the terrible presence of its nemesis. Denying or obfuscating the expression of the intimate bond between opposites is to subscribe by representations of hypocrisy for all eternity. And it is what we have been doing. And doing to perfection, so that this is the beauty we have.
Chilean poet Braulio Arenas, like practically every Surrealist, whether admitted or not, embraced the pyrotechnics of analogy and gave us this gem: “Beautiful like a rose that unravels the maze once and for all.” An image that can be updated like so: beautiful like a plastic rose that eludes mazes. It would be like trading one artifice for another. Rhetoric in all its splendor. Deep down, the beauty we exhibit sees us as conformist prudes. Art has no idea of the holy war horror wages to rid itself of the cinema of beauty.
This, then, the first revolution required of a creative: to find the editing desk for the special effects that make him or her feel circumstantially beautiful. And shamelessly blow it to smithereens.
Either beauty is shameless or it never shall be.
3. THE BOWL OF PROVERBS | In a Wim Wenders movie, the character played by actor Sam Neill, utters a revealing spark during a conversation: “Only miracles make sense.” Not by chance, the character is a writer. I am reluctant to use the term for its worn-out connotations, be they due to the excesses of realism or to suspicions of alienation. A subject currently made all the worse by the appetizer of violence, the favorite diet of many. So that it is a term like any other. Not limited to the victim or the deity. Nor does it save from slips or more severe sins. And for many, in societies still tearing themselves to pieces between cheesy romanticism and the kitsch version of utilitarianism, the repeated inquiry carries with itself a clear scent of mothballs: what good is a writer? As if the script would then move on to inquire after the purpose of politicians and religious leaders. Deep down, the question does have its charm, which is to dismantle a mechanism of belief not in the usefulness of the writer, but in their essentiality, in what they actually think about what they are and do. We borrow from Peter to pay Paul. Although neither Peter nor Paul exist in any case. Let us then keep the miracles and let go of the saints.
The first miracle is that of the crossing. According to an old Yugoslavian proverb: Tell the truth and run for your life. To not miss the joke, to this day it has not been determined if the proverb was the actual cause of the disappearance of Yugoslavia. The crossing is more than the celebration of shifts. Thanks to it, we muddle up forms, fund out others within ourselves, are born countless times. And find the nerve to say away from home what we never would dare under our own roofs. In Europe Murilo Mendes even declared himself a Surrealist, for example. In Brazil, he knew the mortal peril that would involve. Chile’s Vicente Huidobro found in French a way to evade the excessive influence of European culture over his poetry. By writing in French, he cracked the serpent’s egg and in it he found his vital force. Are provincials those who only tell the truth at home? Who never crack the eggshell? The so-called world out there ends up subverting our very self-image before the mirror. We associate breaking from our parents with the beginning of the constitution of a new being, a new personality. It does not matter who we break with. But who would even think about such a think when no one even knows how to cook their eggs in the morning?
The first miracle endures: the point of origin. The Chinese used to say that every long journey begins with one step. As such, it is possible that no second miracle even exists, or that miracles do not accumulate. They are as the big home of singularity, in the sense that every life corresponds to a single miracle. Browsing through the biographies of the artists who played key roles in what we might as well call the miracle of creation, we find that their lives are everything but objects of envy. Who would ever wish to be in their stead? Everybody wants fame, glory, prestige, a well padded bank account. Art entertains us or substitutes in us for a truth that would send us running if we dared to utter it. Art is the best excuse we have to stay where we are.
Perhaps the biggest miracle of all is the discovery of the otherness we all carry inside. Which is a revelation and confirmation of our nature. There is no secondary meaning for this other. It may be love, or poetry, or freedom. For some, it is the love they have always dreamed about. For others, a discovery of giving. Or those gardens we go out to see everywhere as if the real symbol of happiness were permanently shifting. The Greeks used to say that one crow does not peck out the eye of another. A metaphor that does not apply to mankind. So that the miracle occurs when we are given an eye. Perhaps because my life has always been filled with music, including friendships with musicians, I have always thought of it as a jam session. This is what appealed to me the most when I discovered the Surrealist games. The dilemma was that I soon found out, too, that the miracle was good, but the saint was not. Living with poets is not easy. The great feat of poets lies in the elasticity of their egos. Although this firmness of character is a human virtue, it is intriguing to see how it disseminates among poets. When I crossed the threshold of my first half century, I got visits from two poetry miracles. Writing poems as a duo without letting the poem itself get quartered by the snare of ego. Brazilian poet Viviane de Santana Paulo has been living in Berlin for many years and I do not know her in person. I did meet Mexican poet Manuel Íris one heavy minus-fifteen-centigrade winter in Ohio. Neither the cold nor the distance could overcome immediate identification. In Manuel’s case, the intensity was such that we mixed Portuguese and Spanish together to write a book based on Jazz, and slowing blended the two languages, discovering shared words in an intense session of verbal alchemy. Viviane and I sampled our darkest abysses, a holy communion where individual realms of writing fuse together and invent a new being. The Tibetans say that three things never return: arrows shot, words said and opportunities missed. But memory always returns and brings along the martyrdom of the target not hit, the deafness before the commitment to the word uttered, and the snares that made us miss opportunities. Still, a little fate is always left in the garments of existence.
According to a Brazilian proverb, a journey is quicker in good company. Like a journey made by musicians. The mythical, excessively romantic, some might think, journey on a cart loaded with actors. When we allow the word to run down our spine with a mixture of vertigo and charm, the mystery of discovery, that is when we fill up live with all the strength our spirit has. But who would ever imagine a cart loaded with poets? We might imagine a gathering of magicians, if they chose to entertain themselves by making one another disappear through the trick bottoms of their trunks. Do magicians share wagons in large circus camps? Poets probably prefer the longer journey, the one without good company. Every time I think about this I feel like less and less of a poet. Or maybe I’m not picking my proverbs right.
I saw a word running as if it was trying to flee from a fable. From where I stand, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. A fool fills his own life with maxims. I have seen fools who could not live without parroting phrases from Schopenhauer. I am the fool who stands here listing proverbs. A bottomless satchel. One insists that practice makes perfect, except in Russian roulette. Well, under no chance does the blow of chance let itself be bridled. Let us play dice with God all our lives and never bluff hard enough to postpone the game. Because life will always be the gambling table, not the chip-cashing counter. Are we drifting from poetry already? Did we come here to talk about poetry? I don’t know. To me, whenever we talk about anything indispensable to life, we are always talking about poetry. Which is not the same as talking about a poem. Poetry is what we have within and before us. The crossing, the long journey, the miracle. Poems are borne out of journeys, like any manner of creation. The precarious bearing we invent on the horizon. The word dilated. The feeling of being a stranger everywhere. Is a poet one who does not, for even an instant, give up on adapting to life, or one who spotted a piece of good business in the craft of strangeness? Truth is burned at the hand of existence. Fatigue shows through in history when it claims the poem to be more important than the man. The poem is a valuable reflection of the man’s existence in the world. And when it happens to be foolish or unmistakably pragmatic, then it becomes impossible to go on believing that there are only six sides to a die.
Proverbs are like grains of salt placed on the tongue of history. To this day I cannot fathom why Spaniard Juan-Eduardo Cirlot did not include “proverb” as an entry in his dictionary of symbols. Art, politics, religion, never took a single step forward without the astute game of maxims. Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar; Necessity is a teacher; Every one is as old as they seem to be; A guarantee is worth more than a warrant; Thieves with money never hang; If you only walk the line, the train will run you over – and on and on it goes. Bumper stickers galore simply proclaim: God is faithful. We shall never know what god, or to what or whom he or she is faithful. The insurmountable wit lies in ambiguity. For them, the more you live, the more you know. For poetry, the definition of the breadth of sight lies in intensity. In a conversation with Hungarian painter Susana Wald, she tells me that she is sorry that we are always justifying what we do, as if life expected something else from us. Life is ourselves and we do not expect something distant. Why create such a negative view of what we are in life? We are almost always nursing some wound. Art, in its best sense, is an emergency outpost for wounded souls. It was never meant to be funny like someone who comes over for a giggle at everything. It even might be, as long as everyone to the need to giggle at everything in earnest. One more proverb? How about an escape plan? A dream. Life is carved into us far more as a sign of pain that joy. What I dislike about the three-sided nature of an old amulet is that science corresponds to doubt, religion to belief and art to wonder. I never bought this three-leafed clover. When I place my life in a bowl, I do so in both the sense that it should be sampled by every one and the sense that I too may be refreshed by the touch of every lip.
This should be the place for a disquieting silence in the guise of a question that cannot be revealed: is there no end to this? True. In any culture, proverbs teach us not to fly for too long. Which is intriguing because it suggests an assumption that we are ever very close to great discoveries, even as it may point out pains taken to make sure that the saint will never give up the martyrdom to which he devotes his life.
1. “Não há mais moda”, interview by Luciana Stein. Época # 336, São Paulo, Oct. 25th, 2004.
2. Lectures and debates cycle: “Além do mercado: Literatura/As revistas literárias”. Instituto Goethe. São Paulo, SP. October 2001.
3. “O corpo despedaçado de Orfeu”. Revista Poesia Sempre # 8. Rio de Janeiro. Junho de 1997.
4. “Poéticas do pós-moderno”. Revista Poesia Sempre # 8. Rio de Janeiro. Junho de 1997.
5. “O ofício do poeta” (discurso proferido em Munique, em 1976).
6. “Sobre O sistema da moda e a análise estrutural das narrativas”. Entrevista a Raymond Bellour. Les Lettres Françaises. Paris. Março de 1967.
Floriano Martins (Brasil, 1957). Poet, essayist, translator. Translated by Allan Vidigal. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Page illustrated with works by Lucebert (Netherlands), guest artist this edition of ARC.