by K. K. Srivastava
Regis Bonvicino is a Brazilian poet and he is the editor of SIBILA, a magazine of art and culture published from Brazil. Among Bonvicino’s publications are Sky-Eclipse: Selected Poems, Ossos de Borboleta, 33 Poemas, Más companhias, Primerio Tempo and a book for children num zoologica de letras. In addition, he has edited and translated Oliverio Girondo’s work, as well as books by Jules Laforgue, Robert Creeley and Douglas Messerli. His edited correspondence of Brazilian poet and novelist Paulo Leminski, considered a literary monument.
Published in 2017, his latest collection BEYOND THE WALL, originally written in Portuguese and translated into English by Charles Bernstein, Odile Cisneros and Therese Bachand is a bilingual book: both in Portuguese as well as in English. Bonvicino’s poems ruminate over dystopic urban spaces—particularly Sao Paulo where he lives. There might be glimpses of imagery of nature, but often his poems are resolutely unromantic and brutal in their street-level observations. Imagery is startlingly breathtaking.
His poems reflect very vehemently his engagement with the apparent and latent contradictions life offers. These contradictions equip the poet with an opportunity to celebrate what is not celebratable: the free floating anxiety and annihilation of human feelings. A poetic wand in Bonvicino’s hands brings to his readers variations in interpretations and experimentations. A careful reading of the book, and it is a very serious book at that, leads a reader to a realm where the storyteller is not tired of telling the story, but he is certainly tired of the unending nature of stories. So he begins with a search. His first prose-poem is ‘The New Utopia’ which is ‘a black butterfly, inattentive with lush eyes,’ and has other features. To enumerate a few: it is ‘inclusionary, participatory,’ it ‘dies standing,’ it has ‘unconditional respect for underachievers,’ and a lot more. But Bonvicino leaves, at the end, his readers with a question—’Is The New Utopia a poem in tune with the times?’
In ‘This poem’ Bonvicino tackles the question of writing a poem which ‘attracts no attention’ and further ‘it has no future.’ For him, ‘it creates no enemy / it does not die after an attack / it has no barbs / it stands the world.’ I interpret ‘This poem’ as a challenge to the aura of hypocrisy and stubbornness. His preoccupies himself with what seems to be moving out of reach, the nature of space and distance, their relationship. For instance in the poem ‘Etc’ the poet points to ‘the sky, / quiet light, distant, / seeing, only, / arms.’ What Bonvicino sees through these poems are the remnants of lost hopes and a humanity which is ‘docile, guileless.’
‘In the morning’ this is what we read—’A dozen street people / inhabit the traffic island on the main road / a shadow hangs like a curtain / on the other side a white couch.’ People live in urban jungles: dense and crowded. Some feel the need for solitary confinement. Sao Paulo and other modern cities of today, apart from being physical cities, are also cities of the psyche which splits itself into the real and the phantasmagoric. Enough for reinforcing the cerebral wisdom of the poet. The book masks the sense of indifference beneath the malignant surface of life, the ills of leading a downtrodden existence and its hollowness, irony and pathos of human existence. While our physical selves remain in close proximity to thousands, if not millions, the soul inhabits isolation chambers where thought is not possible. There is loss not just of memory, but also of the sense of association, of human relationships. His poems unfold life, placing it at the debris which is half understood and half not understood. Everything beyond is uncertain.
Looking at prospects of contemporary life and the inbuilt tensions within these prospects, he follows a dreamy, meditative path of poetry not only for the individual but also the system. ‘Writing on the wall’ is a poem where the poet wants ‘to live beyond the wall / at the top of the high-rise / a metal nest / a womb,’ which is indicative of the ecstatic nature of impulses.
In his poem ‘Image Impossible’, the poet finds himself trapped in the dreary existence—’like rats / at favela’s door,’ from which the only escape available is imagination which runs through these lines: ‘Cars cross tunnel / amber, blue, brown / thin sidewalk / a beggar / in the gutter / scraps and rags / against the wall / turning heads.’
Bonvicino acts more like a painter, a thinking painter lost in lording over a literary empire only a few dare to tread, and where even a fewer succeed. His world is a lost world, its retrieval an ongoing enterprise, and his book a gigantic effort to place the retrieved world on an even plane. The poet admits and very correctly in ‘Untitled’ that ‘Almost no one sees / what I see in words / byzantine iconoclasm / the clock reads midnight or midday?’ Reason good enough for him to pen in ‘Birthday’: ‘I have been overkilled by my peers / what do I say / enigma?’ Bonvicino comes very close to Samuel Beckett in terms of the latter’s visionary qualities of looking beyond the un-seeable. After finishing the book, certainly not meant for plebeians, I am reminded of Beckett’s play Footfalles—May (M)’s line ‘What age am I now?’ This is a really difficult book. But is poetry not supposed to be difficult? Otherwise what is heaven for?
About the Reviewer: K K Srivastava is a civil servant and currently working as Director General in the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Further he is a prominent poet and a columnist/reviewer. Apart from Bureaucracy Today, he writes for the newspapers The Pioneer and The Daily Star.
BUREAUCRACY TODAY, November 2017