THE POETRY OF RÉGIS BONVICINO:
ONE POET’S WAY OUT OF THE CONCRETE JUNGLEIt is hardly debatable that the concrete poetry movement was one of the most important achievements in Brazilian literary history in the second half of this century. This renovation project was brought about almost single-handedly by the Noigandres group (Haroldo and Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari). By focusing on form and formal devices, it attempted to remotivate what they considered the petrified and excessively rhetorical poetic language of the Geração de 45. It also a launched an momentous systematic project of literary translation and of revival and assimilation of specific literary models of the past, notably Brazilian Modernismo and the American and European avant-garde. But, while the accomplishments of this group and their supporters can hardly be called into question, as with any other vanguard or militant position, the concrete attempt at liberating poetry from its former strictures by radical change, eventually degenerated into an exclusionary movement, dictating what poetry “should be” and delineating often rigid rules for the production of poetic texts.
The response to the militancy and perhaps doctrinaire position of the concrete poets did not make itself wait. Soon enough direct rejection as well as more sympathetic offshoots emerged, as is the case of the “Poesia marginal” and “Neo-concretismo” groups respectively. Still other poets chose to retain some of the lessons of Noigandres, while no longer associating officially with the group and individually exploring new paths of poetic expression. One of the leading voices in this vein is São Paulo poet Régis Bonvicino (b. 1955). In what follows, I will attempt to trace the itinerary of Bonvicino’s work, with specific attention to his poetic devices and composition methods, as well as the dialogue he maintains with diverse literary traditions. For reasons of space, I will limit my discussion to Bonvicino’s work until his 1990 33 poemas, with only brief consideration of his later work.
Despite his visible formal indebtedness to concretismo, Bonvicino’s work is a departure in many ways. Starting from his earliest work, it is evident that he was not merely assimilating the devices introduced by the concrete poets, but was also calling their use into question in his own texts. In terms of their thematic content, many of the poems are inspired, as in the case of concrete poetry, in the postmodern urban experience of life in a metropolis such as São Paulo, especially the role of the poet and poetry in the city. Bonvicino’s self-published Bicho Papel (Paper Creature) appeared in 1975 1. At first sight, seemingly in same vein as the work of the Noigandres poets, upon closer look, it however, reveals a critical dialogue with them. Several poems in this collection illustrate this.
In a 1978 review, Paulo Leminski had already noticed that the poem “?avolho” 2 reveals a “filiação de perplexidade com o concretismo” (an affiliation of perplexity with concretismo) (Leminski “Régis Hotel”, 99). The poem is a manipulation of the world “lavolho”, a brand name of eye drops in Brazil. Already the reference to the language of advertising, as well as the choice of word (a solution used to improve the eye condition) are witness to that affiliation, the concretista emphasis on the visual aspects of poetry. The text is composed of a series of permutations of the word, where the poet substitutes question marks and exclamation points for individual letters, straining to produce a witticism, as in work of Ronaldo Azeredo in the late 50’s. Finding no way out, the poem ends in a ambiguously triumphant and self-deprecatory: “???o??!”.
“Poema resposta comercial” also plays with the linguistic conventions of advertising and public notices. The phrases “não suje/não dobre/não amasse” (don’t litter/ don’t fold/ don’t wrinkle” are repeated four times in double columns across the page, mimicking the effect of public notices that meet the eye of the city dweller every day. The repetitive directness, almost authoritarian quality of these expressions draws attention to the anonymity and mechanization of the human subject in the urban setting. The last line of the poem further emphasizes human alienation in the city: it reads “caixa sentimental – nº 1973 – s. paulo – capital”, parodying the style of personal ads in a newspaper. In the mass anonymity of the city, not only are people addressed by impersonal public signs that direct their behavior, but even personal and romantic relations are established in the same nameless way , through ads in the paper. The return address of the mailbox also serves as signature, coyly pointing to the possibly date and place of composition. The whole poem can be read as a meditation on the function of signs and language as impersonal vehicles of communication in the public and private domains of the urban scene.
The section entitled “Horreadymades”(evident reference to Marcel Duchamp), once again makes use of the language of street signs. The distribution of words on the page, which is responsible for the visual puns that the poems seek to effect, follows the concrete imperative of the power of “graphic space as a structuring agent of the text” (Campos and Pignatari “Plano piloto” 132). The three poems can be seen as belonging to a series, or as variations on the same theme. The words “area de segurança” (“safety area”), “cuidado / obstáculos” (“caution / obstacles”) and “a 10 cm” (“10 cm [away]”), are both in content and in their graphic arrangement and framing on the page, reminiscent of urban traffic signs. The signs interact with words/signs “poesia” (“poetry”), “um poema” (“a poem”), “uma palavra” (“a word”), creating tension in two ways. On the one hand, at the semantic level, they emphasize the subversive power of poetry vis-à-vis modern urban civilization. Poetry, poems, words are to be kept be kept at a safe distance, outside the safety area, because they are obstacles or, worse, threats to the established order and anonymity of cities that the traffic signs invoke. On the other hand, the poems can also be seen as deconstructing the basic principle on which they are based: the texts are visual puns whose effect depends on the humorous juxtaposition of the exclusionary phrases of the traffic signs and the words “poetry”, “a poem” and “a word”. The poems then are self-referential, and terms then acquire a new significance, since they could be seen as referring to these texts themselves (in a surprising “mis-en-ab”me”, where these very texts are to kept at a safe distance). This metalinguistic instance draws attention to the devices in operation (graphic space and the interplay between the signifier and signified), laying bare its structures and ploys, in a manner that can be seen as self-reflexive, if not self-critical. In other words, the poem (whose devices are so self-consciously revealed), may be poking fun at itself, at its own devices, and perhaps invoking a different conception of poetry which the poem itself does not fulfill. In that way, it can be seen as tacitly affirming a different kind of poetics not based on the same principles or devices.The emphasis on structure and form was part of the desire of the concrete poets to reject what they considered a formless “poesia de expressão, subjetiva e hedon’stica” (poetry of expression, subjective and hedonistic), their aim being “criar problemas exatos e resolvê-los em termos de linguagem sens’vel” (to create exact problems and solve them in terms of sensitive language) (Campos and Pignatari “Plano piloto”, 133). “Ora direi” displays Bonvicino’s both adherence to, and parodic treatment of, this aim. The title alludes to a famous poem about the Portuguese language (“Ora direis, ouvir estrelas…”) by Olavo Bilac, a Parnassian poet. Composed of a series of words of similar phonetic patterns, “certo/desperto/aberto/deserto” (certain/awake/open/desert) and “entanto/pranto/espanto/enquanto” (however/weeping/surprise or fright/meanwhile), the two-column layout of the poem is symmetrical on a transverse axis. The symmetry however is broken by the first and last words (certo/deserto) -which aside from not fitting the symmetrical pattern (i.e., not being the same word across the axis), are placed in such a way that they disturb the specular structure of the poem. The conceptual content also disturbs the optimistic belief of the concretes in the power of form — from “certo” (certain, sure, true) we arrive at “deserto” (desert/wasteland). The presence of emotive words such as “pranto” and “espanto” is also a humorous challenge to the anti-lyrical and cerebral quality of concrete poetry.
Finally, “mudar” is another poem that simultaneously employs and mocks the formal resources of the mathematical and geometrical symmetry that concrete poetry sought. The first stanza of the poem is a column one-word lines of verse that strikes the reader as apparent syntactic non-sense. The second stanza, reads “homens/pensam/que/homens/não/são/coisa/a/se/mudar” (“men think that men are not a thing to be changed”), which turns out to be the mirror image of the phrase of the first stanza. In other words, the poem, which at first presents itself to the reader as an enigma to be deciphered, reveals that the enigma is but a mere play with the symmetry of a phrase with a certain epigrammatic quality. The text also pokes fun at this piece of practical wisdom (the impossibility of changing other people), by doing precisely the opposite of what it suggests: it changes (i.e., inverts) the order of words, and forces the reader to struggle to find meaning, thereby prompting a change his or her reading habits.
What comes forth from all these poems is that, early on, Bonvicino had critically assimilated the poetic devices and methods of composition of concrete poetry, and was ready to employ them, not only as a road to self-expression, but also to attack the possible stagnation that they themselves could lead to. In other words, it is as if Bonvicino were parodically employing the tools of concrete poetry against concrete poetry. But formal experimentation (and its debacle via formal tools) was obviously not Bonvicino’s sole aim in poetry. Rather than a mere preoccupation with debunking the formal devices of the concrete poets, Régis Hotel (1978) and Sósia da cópia (1983) chart the changes and influences Bonvicino was experiencing in the late seventies and early eighties. These books witness his search for dialogue with other poetic traditions, as well as different and new poetic devices and composition methods.
The historical context of the late seventies, helps explain some of the changes that shaped Régis Hotel. Paulo Leminski points out that as time went by, experimental poetry went from a phase of ” ‘alta definição’ ” (do concretismo da fase dita ‘heróica’) para a ‘baixa definição’ (tropicalismo). (” ‘high definition’ (from concrete poetry of the so called ‘heroic’ phase) to [one of] ‘low definition’ (Tropicalism)” ) .(“Régis Hotel” 100) That poetry had more in common with pop music, humor/comic strips and the use of vernacular language. (Leminski, “Régis Hotel” 101). Duda Machado, also notes the presence of the the colloquial register as well as experimentation with prose in Bonvicino’s attempt to broaden his repertoire. (89) A number of “guests”, as Leminski, puts it, come together at Régis Hotel: , “muitos ventos, não apenas de ‘autores’ mas também de outras áreas e artes, cruzam nesse Hotel” (“many winds, not only of ‘authors’ but also of other areas and arts”). (“Régis Hotel” 101) Their presence, the composition methods and devices assimilated, also are responsible (as well as witness) to the experimental and intertextual flavor of the collection. As far as a general structuring theme to the collection, we could cite Bonvicino’s own statement in the preface to the book: he considered of the collection “tentativa de pensar a função do poeta numa cidade industrial e cósmica” (“an attempt to think the poet’s function in an industrial and cosmic city”). (quoted by Leminski, “Régis Hotel” 102). In contrast to his former work, where the poet’s “I” only faintly emerges from the concrete walls, in this book, the poet’s role is further emphasized, and faith in the regenerative force of poetry is stressed.
In the same vein as some texts in Bicho Papel, two “false” readymades “apesar do cheiro de…” and “tirando o”, parody the language of newspaper stories and instructions manuals, respectively. In both prose pieces, key parts of the text are left blank: in one the word that indicates the cause of a disaster where several people die; in the other, what one should remove in order to “create freedom”, “establish a relationship” or obtain “comfort from a greater fear”. Aside from the obvious allusion to Duchamp, these texts also whimsically hark back to Blaise Cendrars “telegraphic poems” and “poems found in newspaper stories” and Mallarmé’s insistence on the “blank” space of the page.
Departing from the formal play with space, both “duda veio” and “nhê” introduce not only the colloquial diction in Bonvicino’s poetry, but they also make reference to the less idyllic aspects in the life of city dwellers. In “duda veio” the chorus-like repetition of the line “vem cara” (come on, man) gives the text a song-like quality, reminiscent of the music of Caetano Veloso and other musicians of Tropicalismo. The presence of slang terms such as “grana” (money), “cara” (guy), “barra pesada” (tough stuff), “transar” (fuck), “no tapa” (in dire straits) further enhances the similarity with urban song lyrics. The urban vignettes of each stanza tell the story of several lost souls (duda, rogério, paulete, lou, chico, marcelo), whose dreary destinies include a sex-change crisis, an agitated nightlife, a failed poetic career, and hopeless preaching that the planet needs “much penitence”. Imitating colloquial speech, “nhê” makes ironic reference to the practice of prostitution in the city of São Paulo. The poem also humorously manipulates the name of a popular car model (“brasília”) in a number of different variations, a device that, again, recalls concretismo.
In “são paulo”, the poet points yet another ironic finger at the city, when it laconically observes that all that is left of its Tupi past is the fast sound of the word “aqui”. Leminski called the poem a “seta tupi apontando para a cidade” (“a tupi arrow pointing to the city”) (“Régis Hotel” 102). Despite its brevity, the text reveals a subtle complexity: the poem is built around the rhyme “tupi/aqui” (“Tupi/here”). In linguistic terms “here”, a deictic pointer that only acquires its relative semantic value when uttered, not only points to the city but also ingeniously suggests the arrows Leminski mentioned. The poem could also make reference to the toponymy some São Paulo districts, frequently derived from Tupi words.
Other unpalatable aspects of city life, such as noise, are invoked by what Duda Machado called the “gesticulação gráfica de ‘oO'” (“graphical gesticulation of ‘oO'”) (89). In this poem, the poet imitates the pulsating, Doppler effect of city noises by doubling the letters of the phrase “silence/yells to/forgetfulness/experience/the absurd sound/of a city”, in alternating lowercase and uppercase symbols. Also in the graphic mood, “Vamos destruir a máquina” renders homage to the comic-strip influence of Tropicalism. The strip shows a Disney character involved in the destruction of a “machine”, when suddenly a voice issues from it claiming that for everything that exists in the universe there is an inverse: an anti-voice, anti-glass, an anti-machine. The reference to the “uni-verse” and “in-verses”, reminds us of the concrete desire to eliminate the “verse” (presumably creating the “anti-verse”) :”poesia concreta: produto de uma evolução cr’tica de formas, dando por encerrado o ciclo histórico do verso” (“concrete poetry: product of a critical evolution of forms which deems the historical cycle of verse closed”). (Campos and Pignatari “Plano piloto” 132). Furthermore, the text pokes fun at the staunch anti-lyric stance of the concrete poets.All of the influences and techniques in the above poems emerge in Bonvicino’s search for an authentic poetic voice, one that is not merely the rejection of a tradition viewed as repressive. That is evident in the self-deprecatory “esse”, where the poet pretends to hide behind the mask of cerebral texts, playing a center-forward, in order to disguise his desire to be the main player.
This rehabilitation of the lyrical “I”, has to do with the aforementioned role of the poet vis-à-vis the city, and the regenerative powers of poetry in the urban setting. As Kristiaan Versluys has noted, since the past century and due to “the conflict between man and his environment (…) the city became a problem, a cause for reflection, around which accrued a body of writing, significant in volume and quality” (11). From his early work, Bonvicino’s poetry inscribes itself in that tradition of urban poetry. Further on, studying the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Versluys observes that the relationship of Rilke to the city is one where “the poet has to empathize with his Umwelt, and that this empathy has to be objectified (…) the urban environment has to be faced and undergone in order to be conquered through the hard work of the beauty-creating artist.”(128) One could characterize Rilke’s attitude as one of utopian optimism in the invigorating power of poetry. A similar point could be made in Bonvicino’s case. Although some of the above poems reveal the city in its less handsome garb, the desire to incorporate colloquial speech, as well as the humorous use of urban thematic content, reveal the poet’s empathy with his environment. Faith in the regenerative powers of poetry is palpably present in “o que há”. The text plays on the phonetic similarity of “alegria/utopia/poesia” (“joy/utopia/poetry”), lightheartedly repeating permutations of these combinations and other words. In this optimistic view on the role of poetry as a utopian space, “signs” interact and are equated with “joy”, “utopia” and “poetry”. The city might be a concrete jungle, but as “poema” reminds us, perhaps less cheerfully, a poem is a “gulp of water in the dark”, the poet, “a wounded animal groping for the future.”
If Régis Hotel was a crossroads for different influences, methods and authors, Sósia da cópia radicalizes this impulse to the point of becoming, in Leminski’s words, “uma discussão viva e criativa, do próprio conceito de originalidade” (“a lively and creative discussion of the very concept of originality” (95). He also noted that “a continuidade da cultura, porém, mostra que só pode haver originalidade contra um pano de fundo de elementos herdados, assimilados, traduzidos” (“the continuum of culture, however, shows that there can only be originality against the backdrop of inherited, assimilated and translated elements” (“Fino desenho” 95). So in the same line as his former work, here Bonvicino brings together elements as disparate as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix (“Fazer turismo”), Latin and Portuguese proverbs (“o provérbio latino”), newspaper stories and Galician-Portuguese troubadour poems (“do noticiário” ), Caetano Veloso (“Pratos sujos”), idiomatic clichés (“retrato falado”), Oswald de Andrade and the “Manifesto Antropofágico” (“oswald de andrade”), Wallace Stevens (“o vidro ‘ndigo na relva”/ “the indigo glass in the grass”), Jorge Luis Borges (“Borges, também ficção?”), the language of advertising (“fio de esperança”), and Fernando Pessoa and other Portuguese Modernists and Futurists (“nada a declarar” and “últimas palavras”).
But this discussion of the concept of originality, this borrowing of voices in search of one’s own, is nothing but Pessoa’s own serious game with masks, where “the poet is a faker/who’s so good at his act/the even fakes the pain/that he feels in fact.” (Pessoa 247). Bonvicino’s pain, however, is not fake, as is recorded in “vida, paixão e praga de RB” (“RB’s Life, Passion and Plague”), an autobiographical poem in several sections, which lies at the heart of the pursuit of originality in Sósia da cópia. Following a self-sketch of the poet at work, the second section of the poem narrates the suicide of the poet’s mother. This painful experience, however recounted with no trace of drama, prompted what Bonvicino calls “antipoetry”, the poet’s only possibility for exile. The following sections display the poet’s accumulated wealth of resources (3. play with words — concrete resources — always treated with a critical distance; 4. pairs of images — emphasis on the construction of poetry; 5. visual play thematizing poetry as utopia; 6. assimilation of poetic influence of Jules Laforgue), building up tension towards the last section, which in Duda Machado’s view is an “elaborada peça de auto-acusação” (“elaborate piece of self-accusation”). (91) In this auto-critical gesture, the poet questions his role and the role of poetry, calling himself a “little box of echoes”, a “robot made witless”, “a translation of a translation”, indeed a “plague”. In a more positive light however not uncritical, “o poeta” characterizes the poet as someone who sticks his fingers (i.e., colloquially “his nose”) everywhere, upsetting the order of things of reality, truth, and poetry as a necessary exercise of “putting one’s finger in the wound”. The text dexterously plays with the double meanings of the names of fingers (annular and index), pointing to the function of poetry as one of annulling and to indicating.
Thus, despite the emblematic (“não há saídas”), which playfully portrays the poet as inextricably trapped in the urban maze of São Paulo, both in its varied experimental temper, as well as in its unflinching yet not unqualified belief in the redemptive role of poetry, Sósia da cópia, already points the way to Bonvicino’s mature work of the next phase: Más companhias3 (1987) and 33 poemas (1990).
A quick glance at the appearance of 33 poemas already reveals a departure from Bonvicino’s earlier work in two significant ways: on the one hand, the emphasis on visual puns has disappeared, although a remnant of the volatility of words on the page can still be noticed. What this means formally is a return to more traditional versification and a revalorization of rhyme as a structuring agent, as well as a greater emphasis on the phonetic value of words. On the other hand, although the dialogue with other poets, artists and discourses has not disappeared in 33 poemas , the “foreign” element is treated less as a citation or literary “loan”, than as a prompt for an original poem. In other words, the emphasis is less on the prompt itself as a subject, summoned and treated “verbatim”, than on the creative reaction it engenders. Thematically, poems center more on the observation of the natural world, yet the city is still present in unexpected ways.
Among Bonvicino’s intertextual interlocutors in 33 poemas are contemporary Brazilian artists Lygia Clark and Jac Leirner (“não escritos” and “sobre um trabalho de jac leirner”, literal meditations on their work); W.H. Auden (“destino de pastiche” a reflection on the nature of literary transaltion); Jules Laforgue (“Poema” an homage in Laforgue’s self-ironic style); and François Villon (“dias em seguida” an extraordinary litany of questions about life’s gifts and penalties). If Bonvicino’s work until this point could be seen as a dialogue with certain formal resources of poetry and tradition, beginning with 33 poemas, it becomes a dialogue with the world, where objects become signs that alter the being of subjects in the world. Thus, in the clover the poet “reads” a “fourth leaf which turns luck into destiny”, in a fossil, a scribbled plant, and in the ant, a “narrative that invents the [proverbial] grasshopper” (“no trevo”). Similarly, in “na flor não”, seeing becomes a question of avoiding the obvious and reading beyond appearances: the flower is not (or is more than) its individual parts, it’s a neighbor, one’s fellow; the universe is not its coldness or remoteness, but its inverse; excrement is not a sign of decay, but rather of regeneration as manure.
Another important sign for the poet is the sun. But as with insects and plants, the sun is to be “read” in different ways. A series of poems about the sun and sunset records these observations or readings, that are in no way univocal. Far from typically associating the sun with life-giving force, it is portrayed in its nadir. Its pernicious power is seen in its “carbides that kill the air”, its action “against the neon of the city and “chemical insects and their methods”. It is a “blind” and “obSOLete” sun which “watches shadows on objects”. (“palavras de um pôr-do-sol”). In “triste como um pôr-do-sol” the poet reads a “vague”, “alien”, “diffuse” sun, which faintly and almost reluctantly comes to perform its duty of shedding light. As with the Romantics, in this poem the outside environment is a reflection of the inside mood of the poet. Formally, the poem establishes an ingenious rhyme pattern with the sounds “vai/veio/soslaio/leio”. As is with the sun that competes with the neon lights of the city, in “de um pôr-do-sol”, the “sounds” of a sunset also clash with the sounds of neon, the sounds of “motorcycle shearing, tearing up space” creating a sensation of urban senselessness and discontinuity.
The sun is not the only object to which the poet as-signs sounds. I mentioned the importance of the phonetic value of words in 33 poemas. A great part of the collection could thus be characterized as a “zoo of sounds”, both literally and metaphorically. Several poems deal with direct observations of animals and the sounds they elicit, and others are taxonomies of onomatopoeias and verbal invention. In “palavras” different parts of the bodies of animals evoke different sounds. The world of animals as viewed as encompasing language. “zap” is built on onomatopoeic and invented sounds and quotes archaic words from the Galician-Portuguese troubadour poems. In the delightful “num zoológico de letras” a mixture of typographic signs invokes iconic representation of the signified (a centipede is drawn by “ummmmmmmmmma centopéia”). Both “no. 2, sense prose” and “borr” display the poet’s virtuosity in verbal invention, where words are manufactured for the value of their sounds.
Although many of these poems evidence a tight construction as far as formal aspects are involved, the lyrical and subjective elements tend to override structural concerns. This was noticed by Charles Perrone in his study of contemporary Brazilian poetry, Seven Faces. Accordingly, he points out that “Bonvicino (…) symptomatically called himself ‘a signic reporter’ and ‘a concretist that didn’t know what to do with his heart’.” (Perrone 133) And indeed, the limitations, perhaps even inadequacy of the inventiveness and light-hearted lyricism of 33 poemas vis-à-vis certains subjects is evidenced in two poignant poems “tempo sombrio” and “em sua lápide”. These texts deal with the suicides of Paulo Leminski and the poet’s mother Alva Flôr, respectively. “tempo sombrio”, written the day after Leminski’s death (suicide, if the massive consumption of alcohol and drugs is seen as such) deploys only minimal graphic resources and the somber tone is witness to indifference of the world towards death and disaster in a way almost reminiscent of Auden’s famous “Musée de Beaux-Arts”. The city, dogs barking, caravans of cars, nothing manages to hear the sound of the poet’s suicide. T.S. Eliot’s cruellest month is also present “all months made of April”. “em sua lápide” quite literally and unemotionally sketches the mother’s suicide, an issue previously addressed in “vida, paixão e praga de RB”. An almost clinical description of her 200-pill intake and its appalling physical effects contrasts with the terse, yet emotionally powerful closing lines: “‘this one had no pity on herself'”/ could have been written/ on her gravestone”.
This somber mood that permeates some of the poems of 33 is not completely out of tune with Bonvicino’s two most recent books, the meditative Outros poemas (1993) and Ossos de borboleta (1996). Formally, both represent a return to writing in lines, with seldom use of non-traditional textual distribution. They are a far cry from the days of concrete poetry’s visual experiments. Although this could be regarded as a step back, Bonvicino prefers to think of it an alternative to the binary opposition between visual poetry and traditional verse.4 In both, most poems are far from obvious, to a certain degree enigmatic, and offer a wealth of interpretive possibilities. They contain gestures towards a metaphor and comparison, which are never made completely explicit. In their conciseness and brevity, an image sketched in a couple words, they are also reminiscent both of haiku poetry and minimalist aesthetics. In terms of thematic content, they tend to balance the direct observation of nature in/and the urban landscape, with more abstract philosophical reflections.
In Outros poemas, “Abrigo contra os abismos” portrays poetry as a shelter from the urban clouds of acid and smoke. “O tempo” is a meditation on the passage of time as experienced by the city dweller in the faded graffiti of the walls, the holes in the asphalt of the streets, and in the fading colors of buildings. “Portas” denounces the illogic of certain constructions such as doors made never to be open, windows planned for nothing, dead end streets, empty veins, blind prismas and broken mirrors. “De” is a poem about a preposition, the indeterminate spaces that a preposition fills. “Não nada” discusses issues of personal identity — the other, the same, the similar. Dead former selves are insulated in the same body, while tattoos, scratches, and scars become the indexes of identity with one’s former self. The prose text “Outros passsos (peça em um ato)” (“Other Steps” [one-act play]) is made of a series of commands such as “don’t sit on the chair”, “move legs and arms”, “change the baby’s diaper” “dial a phone number” while stage directions suggest the city outside: urban noises, car going by. It takes the “actor” from the private space of the household, to the public space of the city, where neon lights and urban noises, car alarms and a beggar cross the path of the poet’s fl‰nerie.
In Ossos de borboleta, the graphic exuberance of Bonvicino’s early work gives way to the word as the basic building block of poetry. The mood is much more contemplative and less playful. The influence of Robert Creeley can be seen in the short lines of poetry, specifically in “Março (2)”, a minimalist type of poetry that is concerned with basic differences and oppositions, in brief urban vignettes. In the same minimalist vein “figuras” is a kind of geometric poetry: in “Vértice” – the shape of the letter V in the words upside-down (“Vértice / ao avesso” ) suggest mountain tops and humps of camels in a quasi-cratylic fashion. Things are reduced to their minimal geometrical shape: a point is a circle “intimate of itself” (. All this reminds the reader of “poesie pure”, line-drawing, the slight the stroke of a brush. “Me transformo” establishes the interplay between the identity of the self and the other. The self is transformed by the objectivations and reactivations, lines and realignments of others; others traverse the subject, making it permeable to the impressions of the world. Language deliberately abstract — used for its power to gesture openly: “dead of being”, “things lose their meaning”, “disactivated portrait,/ taxidermist of myself”. There are lyrical studies on the passage of time (“Estão” and “Na”) and a preoccupation with capturing the fleeting moment (“210195”). As with any real insight, Ossos de borboleta contains the opposite of itself: there are diametrical views, which only point to their own relativity, the only consistency imaginable.
This panorama of Bonvicino’s itinerary is far from exhaustive. I have tried to isolate general trends, comment on poems that appeared particularly enlightening in the transformation of his poetic voice since his early emergence from concrete poetry. I believe Bonvicino’s uncompromising desire to experiment, his intellectual restlessness, his dialogue with other traditions account for a significant and fruitful evolution from the formal tools and discourse of the concrete poets. His unquenchable yet critical formal dynamism, and his empathetic treatment of the urban scene, including his affirmation of the redemptive power of poetry, are responsible for a highly original and viable way out of the concrete jungle.
Bonvicino, Régis. “Diálogo-Caracol com Régis Bonvicino.” In Caracol-Viola. No. 0, Spring 1998: 41-45.
—. Email communication Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 17:59:02
—. Primeiro tempo. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1995.
—. Ossos de borboleta. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1996.
—. Outros poemas. São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1993.
—. 33 poemas. São Paulo: Iluminuras and Secretaria de Estado da Cultura de São Paulo, 1990.
Campos, Haroldo and Augusto de, and Pignatari, Décio. “Plano piloto para poesia concreta.” In Poetas do modernismo; antologia crítica. Ed. Azevedo Filho, Leodegário A. de. Brasília, Instituto Nacional do Livro, 1972.
Leminski, Paulo. “Fino desenho.” In Primeiro tempo. pp. 95-96.
—. “Régis Hotel: começando por cima.” In Primeiro tempo. pp. 97-102.
Machado, Duda. “Invenção da cópia como criação.” In Primeiro tempo 89-91
Perrone, Charles. Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry Since Modernism. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996.
Pessoa, Fernando. Fernando Pessoa & Co. —Selected Poems. Tr. Richard Zenith. NewYork: Grove Press, 1998.Versluys, Kristiaan. The Poet in the City: Chapters in the Development of Urban Poetry in Europe and the United States (1800-1930). TŸbingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1987.
1. Bicho papel, Régis Hotel and Sósia da cópia were republished in 1995 under the title Primeiro tempo. This is the edition the texts are quoted from.
2. Because of the problems involved in reproducing some of the graphic texts, and for reasons of consistency I have decided to include all discussed poems in the appendix. Poems which are only mentioned or not analyzed in depth have been left out. All translations, unless otherwise mentioned, are my own.
3. This volume, currently out of print, was unavailable at time of writing. In the poet’s own view, it represents a “transição do Primeiro Tempo, especialmente do poema “vida, paixão e praga de RB”, para o tom dos 33 poemas e os seguintes. É um livro explosivo, com poemas muitos fortes. Causou escandalo.” (“a transition from Primeiro Tempo, to the tone of the 33 poemas, especially of the poem “vida, paixão e praga de RB”. It is an explosive book with very intense poems. It caused scandal.”) (email communication May 27, 1999). In a later version of this paper I plan to include an analysis of this text.
4. “Não aprecio as experiências de poesia visual que são feitas hoje. Há 40, 30 anos um poema visual tinha um significado de ruptura. Hoje é imitação de propaganda, de publicidade. É acrítico (…) Todavia, não aprecio a idéia de “verso” como unidade para a poesia — no caso, para a minha. E a saída do verso não é necessariamente o poema visual (…) Escrevo em linhas — sem prestar atenção às regras métricas ou ao verso livre mas prestando atenção às inflexões da respiração ou do sistema nervoso, por exemplo.” (“I don’t appreciate the visual poetry experiments that are done today. Forty or thirty years ago a visual poem had a meaning of rupture. Today, it’s an imitation of advertising. It’s uncritical (…) However, I don’t appreciate the idea of the”line of verse” as a unit for poetry -in any case, for mine. The way out of [traditional] “verse” is not necessarily visual poetry (…) I write in lines -not paying attention to meter or to blank verse but paying attention to the patterns of breathing or of the nervous system, for example.” (Bonvicino “Diálogo-Caracol” 43) 20