Sunday, April 29, 2018

Poems + Translations: Arnaldo Antunes



Last year I had the pleasure of translating a small cache of poems by Arnaldo Antunes (1960-), a Brazilian musician, composer and writer, who is very famous in his home country, but not as well known on these shores. A former member of the rock & roll  band the Titãs (Titans) and an extensive collaborator with the Brazilian singer Marisa Monte (1967-), Antunes has been publishing his poetry since the early 1980s, and, like his music, it has the capacity for being both seemingly straightforward and accessible, while also proving quite playfully complex. One of my favorite of his musical works is Os Tribalistas (EMI/Phonomotor), a 2002 project with Monte and Bahian musician Carlinhos Brown (1962-).

One challenge with Antunes's poetry is the magic he wields with apparently simple elements combines into challenging verbal artifacts. I am thinking for example of a poem I translated entitled "Pedro de pedro," whose title may seem easy enough, but which is actually quite difficult to render into English. Why? Because "pedro" means "stone" or "rock" and that "de," meaning "of," adds layers of nuance, creating in English the following possibilities: "Stone's stone," "Rocky stone," "Stony stone," "Stone made out of stone," etc.

Of course I can't write all of these into the English translation, which demands that I pick one (I did), but I nevertheless want and need to to give a sense of what a native Portuguese speaker would pick up and puzzle over, yet understand, seeing the title alone. The polysemous nature of such poetry, which abounds in Antunes's work, deeply fascinates me, leading me to attempt to translate the untranslatable, but then, isn't that what all translators at some level are up to? Na impossibilidade fica possibilidade, não?

Antunes also has played with concrete and digital poetics over the years. You can find a variety of examples if you search online. You also can view an array of his musical and visual artistry at his personal site. In 1993, shortly after leaving Titãs, he released a collaborative LP, Nome (Name) guest-starring Monte, João Donato and Arto Lindsay, which was a multimedia music-and-poetic project with a computer-animated video that later traveled to various art museums and galleries. He has continued exploring poetry's materiality, and its nexus with visual art and the digital, and after a bit of scrounging about online, I found three examples of his poems, on Brazil Escola and  that merge the poetic and visual, emphasizing language's materiality and multiplicity.


 The first poem feels very appropriate to the political and social situations in Brazilian and US society today:

    PER

    DER

    BER

LI       TA




    LOS

    ING

    BER

LI        TY



The second involves a little visual play, with the flying upside down once the wing(s) come(s) out (or off, in which case the upside flying also signifies falling!):

TIRA
A ASA


E VOA



TAKE OUT
THE WING



AND FLY




This third piece is a quartet (or, thinking of visual art, a tetrych) of poems, one partly in English, one the same in the both languages, the other two in Portuguese, and all together forming a kind of crossword puzzle when viewed from afar:

IMAG
IGAB
YBTES

IMAG
IGAB
YTES

(Or "Imagigabytes," a neologism, but really what we produce with every creative thought)

***

IN-
VENTO
VENTO
DENTRO

I IN-
VENT
WIND
WITHIN

This one needs no explication; even if you speak no Portuguese, if you say it aloud it you can here the rhyme, and the inward sound of "dentro" (within, inside) vs. "vento" (wind); is it that "r" that does the trick?

***

MIRA
NA ESTRELA
E ASSOPRA

AIM
AT THE STAR
AND BLOW

This is quite simple too; my translation misses the visual design of the poem, in which the "blowing" is clearly attenuated; stars are far away, as we know.

***

YOU CAN THINK EVERYTHING
TUDO PODE SER PENSADO

VOCE PODE PENSAR TUDO
EVERYTHING CAN BE THOUGHT

With this one I reversed the translations, so that his English becomes Portuguese and vice versa. As we human beings steadily learn, almost anything can be thought, though that does not mean we need to act on it.

All translations and commentary © Copyright John Keene, 2018.

No comments:

Post a Comment