Where were you Born and What was your Formation?
I was born and raised in the city of Sao Paulo, in fact I have never lived anywhere else except for a short period of time in 1991 when I lived in a small rural town in the State of São Paulo. The State of São Paulo is the richest state in the Brazilian Federation and has the position that New York or California holds in the USA.
I was born in 1955 when the city of São Paulo had 5 million people; today it has over 20 million.. São Paulo has always been a cosmopolitan, immigrant city, with immigrants from all continents. São Paulo has the world’s largest Japanese community outside of Japan, for example. I can say that I have lived in various foreign and Brazilian cities called São Paulo.
The visual arts and music have always been part of the city’s environment. São Paulo has the most important art museum in Latin America, with many paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Derain and many others; this museum is called MASP (Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo). I grew up in a very stimulating period in Brazil; the catalyst for growth in the 1960s and the 1970s was the counterculture with various hippie, art, performances movements as well as rebellions and guerrilla movements full of armed struggle: Tropicalism and Marxism.
At the time, Brazil lived under a dictatorship (from 1964 to 1985). There was censorship, but at the same time, a lot of energy that derived from the struggle against the dictatorship. Fighting against the dictatorship gave me a sense for the public role of art and poetry that is still with me today. I believe that the USA, beginning with G. W. Bush, is living under a dictatorship with the suppression of rights and fundamental freedoms. I think that American poets could engage more to fight for a new democracy for their nation. Many American poets give me the impression that they consider politics a Third World notion. I think writing in the US, in general, has disconnected itself from life and politics.
What are you Poetic Influences?
I do not like the concept of “influence” as developed by Harold Bloom and how he has used it. I met Bloom in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2001. I jokingly said to him as we climbed up the hills of this medieval city, that his exhaustion came from the “weight of tradition”. I think this is a concept that warps literature turning it into submission, like a game of marked cards, and not as an innovation.
I prefer the idea of dialogue; influence implies subservience. And art does not accept submissions of any kind. Art is affirmation, liberty, vigor, innovation. I read a lot when I began as a poet, many Brazilian poets such as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, and a romantic poet Alvares de Azevedo . I also liked the Beatles and, in particular, John Lennon; I also liked Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. I think that Jimi Hendrix was very important for me because of his experimentalism and experimentation that worked because if its audacity. John Lennon was important because he was an experimental political activist. I also liked the group Fluxus of New York very much.
I liked the concrete poets such as Decio Pignatari – and don’t like them anymore for a long time because they have been “canonized”. I liked Caetano Veloso but today I find it detestable how commercialized he has become. I liked Ezra Pound whom I began to read when I was 17 years old. At the time, I also read the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giuseppe Ungaretti, and also the Portuguese poets Fernando Pessoa and Mario de Sá-Carneiro.
I also look for dialogues; for example, the ones I had with Robert “Bob” Creeley, Michael Palmer, Douglas Messerli, Norma Cole, and, most recently, with Charles Bernstein to mention the Americans. I seek dialogues and translations, in a relationship of reciprocity and equality, so that that gives way to invention and innovation. My favorite poet is Federico García Lorca.
When did you become a poet?
I “officially” became a poet to myself in 1972, when I was 17. In 1972 when I wrote a two-line poem, “inquietude / inquietudo,” I started to establish many routines in this sense, writing. It was very difficult to tolerate the idea of being a poet. I always thought that this was a heavy burden and is filled with many prejudices and with the difficulties of writing good or decent things. Even today I think poetry is a burden. I desire to be always free and to find poems in freedom, without the influence of poetic movements or routines that are not useful.
Where were you educated? Was it important?
I was educated at one of the best high schools in São Paulo. I then went to law school at the Universidade de São Paulo, which is very highly regarded, like Harvard or Yale. I really took advantage of all that a university could offer, and legal studies gave me a sense of public life that I would not have had if I had studied literature or writing.
I always rejected the idea of having a master’s or doctorate in literature. I am an independent writer, a poet. I don’t have, in this sense, a career. I avoided having a career as a poet at a university. I am more interested in politics than in economics. Politically, I am center left. If I had voted in the USA, I would have voted for John Kerry but with no great conviction, I like the ideas of Michael Hardt. Hardt feels that the Democrats need to assume more radical stances and work harder to regain the rights of US citizens. The USA today is not a very democratic nation.
There are 30 million poor in the USA–this is absurd! In Brazil, the situation is even more absurd with 50 million of indigents! On the other hand, this bellicose side of the USA invading other nations bothers me. In one century, the USA has invaded 136 nations! We need a new world!
Poetry in Brazil is considered avant garde and advances what do you think of writing in Brazil?
Poetry in Brazil is on the whole mediocre and conservative, it is not avant-garde at all. Today is one of the most conservative in the world. The first avant-garde mark in Brazil was the Modern Art Week in 1922, curated by Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral, and Mario de Andrade. Then Brazil had Concretism (a little late for an avant-garde, since it happened in the early 1960s). One of the central figures was Mario Faustino. Then came Neoconcretism and then Tropicalism, and that’s it….but today all the literary prizes are controlled by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, which is very conservative with an antiquated idea of poetry.
I think to respond to your first question poets like Cesar Vallejo (Peru), Vicente Huidobro (Chile), and Oliverio Girondo (Argentina) were very avant-garde in comparison to Brazilian poets. Carlos Drummond de Andrade was avant-garde in his beginning in the 1930s. He is one of the major poets in the Portuguese language of all times, along with João Cabral de Melo Neto (1924-1999). Both are considerably superior to the Mexican Octavio Paz, a “major minor” poet. Drummond and Cabral are two giants who emerged from the 1922 vanguard. I would also like to mention Murilo Mendes, who came out of the 1922 period and remained an innovator–he is very good. I think that there are very few poets who are “thinking” the avant-garde in Brazil today: Josely Vianna Baptista and ??? The question of vanguard is what interests me the most. I think that it is possible to be innovative personally, but not as an avant-garde collective. I think we all need changes.
Personally, I am interested in the contemporary world. This is why I say that Brazilian literature is conservative, shaped by a nationalist sentiment by the sociologist and literary critic Antonio Candido. Unfortunately, today the Modernism of 1922 and the Concreteism of 1960 and the Tropicalism of 1968 are part of the canon, but they are empty expressions of the official vanguard. Listen, Bianchi, the world is an empty vessel and we are all lost. My Eden is the Russian cubo-futurism of 1917, when a revolution in art and politics were happening at the same time.
What is your favorite food
Rice with anything …
I love soccer. I am a fan of Palmeiras (one of São Paulo’s many soccer teams) I always follow my team and how they are doing. Palmeiras earned the second place in the 1999 Team Championship; they lost in the final to Manchester United 1-0. I also follow the Brazilian national team. I admire players like Rivaldo, now playing for Olimpiacos, in Greece, and also Ronaldo Gaucho, today playing for Barcelona in Spain.
On any Brazilian beach especially in Salvador da Bahia
“Begone George Bush!” and “Begone Fidel Castro!”
What is your opinion of New York Vanguard Poetry?
Vanguard in New York? Maybe when Marcel Duchamp lived there almost 100 years ago… At the moment, I prefer to read Poeta en Nueva York by Federico García Lorca… I do not believe that the avant-garde lives in New York or anywhere else, except as genre.
I can cite poets that I read and appreciate among the living: the most concise and innovative, the less “obvious” poems by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews. I am not very fond of long poems. Bernstein is a thinker besides being a good poet. He is the major critic and thinker of American poetry today, along with Marjorie Perloff. Bernstein has a lively mind! I think that Parsing (1976) – that Perloff didn’t like that much saying, it was too Steinian -, is a brilliant book. I like Michael Palmer very much, who was born in New York, although his work is a little too contrived for my taste. I do not like the poetry of John Ashbery – it is very discursive, unnecessarily verbose and over intellectualized. I like minor poets like Gregory Corso and major poets like Frank O’Hara. I am not in a position to assess North-American poetry in depth.
I can say that I like the Ethnopoetics that Jerome Rothenberg has undertaken in the New York and American scenes. Yes, John Cage! I also like Stein, George Oppen (my Favorite), Williams, Pound, Wallace Stevens. Among the living I like Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Howe, and others. Robert Creeley, in my opinion, is the major living American poet, he should win the Nobel Prize. I like some things by Allan Ginsberg but not the long, verbose stuff–it sounds like an empty speech of a congressman pleading for favors.
As a Sao Paulo writer what do you think of poetry in the rest of Brazil?
Sao Paulo is the most Brazilian city of all cities because it receives people from all of Brazil. I am a Brazilian poet, intensely Brazilian and from BRAZIL!
You had a long relationship with Paulo Leminski why do you think he is not read as much in global and American audiences?
One of the reasons is that Portuguese is a minority language in the world. For example, Carlos Drummond de Andrade is not known in the USA. Recently he was translated to English by a lout named Mark Strand. His translation destroyed Drummond in English. But Leminski was recently launched in the US by me, Michael Palmer and Douglas Messerli, in the pioneering anthology Nothing the Sun Could Not Explain: 20 Contemporary Brazilian Poets, in 1997. Now there’s a second edition from Green Integer. Leminski is a more important as a writer than as a poet. Also, there is my book Sky-Eclipse (Green Integer, 2000) in case anyone wants to read it!
How do you write a poem?
I like to walk around and jot down things in a notebook. I leave the notebook for a while, and later I “hunt” for the poems. I like to create in the streets, walking around, moving.
Do you use Parataxis and collage in your poetry?
Yes, but without any pretentiousness. I use it as any other technique. A poem is not a genre, it’s a poem. Poetry is more than technique, more than transpiration, more than inspiration. Poems are the vision of the world in words on paper. I am “retro”, I do not believe in Sound Poetry. On the other hand, I think that experiments with Internet, such as e-writing, are very important.
Is poetry a synthetic or organic process for you?
Where do you write? Is Ambient important for you?
I like to write while in motion, in the streets, confronting the streets with literature. I write in all places, I have discipline not a routine, for example during the last year I have been depressed but now I have returned to my poetry. I write when I am relatively happy.
In the space between created language and found language where do you fall?
I think I create things. “Things” are there, you can take them, but if you incorporate them in your work, you are creating. Yes, I use many sources: life. I get tired of poetry that is very poeticized. I prefer a more direct poetry that is more personal and alive – where language talks to itself and says other things, that are essential to the survival of humanity.