Monday, September 28, 2009

Poem: Mário de Andrade

Mario de AndradeA quarter of a century before Frank O'Hara premiered his urban, pop-suffused, witty, giddy queer poetry, Mário de Andrade (1893-1945, at right, had pretty much gotten there first with his 1922 landmark declaration of Brazilian modernism, Paulicea Desvairada (Hallucinated São Paulo). A musician and musicologist by training, an aesthete by inclination and avocation, Andrade had by the 1920s become a leading presence in the country's artistic vanguard. In February 1922, he and several other young writers, musicians, sculptors, and visual artists inaugurated the Week of Modern Art in São Paulo, presenting a range of work that bemused and disturbed many of the city's major art patrons. In July of the same year, Andrade published his thin volume of 22 poems with its mocking preface, which dismisses the volume outright and also rejects the appellation of "Futurist" his fellow poet (with the same last name but apparently of no relation), Osvaldo de Andrade had given him, instead designating a new school, of "Hallucinism," which he promises to promptly cast off as well.

There is a great deal of Hallucinism in this volume, with its chains of concrete non-sequiturs and fragments, its curlicued rhymes (which have to be read aloud to grab the complete effect), its combination of precision and São Paulo-esque disorder--and its French and American modernity. Andrade's influences include not only his Brazilian and Spanish language predecessors, but predecessors to Modernism including Rimbaud, Verhaeren, Mallarmé, and Whitman, as well as the oeuvres of numerous plastic artists of this period, and the churning cultural mix of Brazil itself. He rejumbles all of them, adding his own sensibilities, to create what is in essence a new poetry on the Brazilian scene; certainly very few of his peers, let alone critics or readers, had read anything like it in Portuguese. The lyrical, campy yet sincere exclamations--so full of joy and wonder, and melancholy all the same--and lists, which would also dot O'Hara's poetry ("Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! / You really are beautiful! Pearls, / harmonicas, jujubes aspirins! all / the stuff they've always talked about...") are here, in similar service. They convey, the richness of the city's distractions, the depth-charges of momentary, ephemeral experiences, his continuous highs and lows, or as he says in the poem I translate below, the "tumult" ("comoção"--but also commotion, for it's important not to lose the sense of movement that the poem's form transmits) of his life.

Amidst the hallucination-provoking confusions and profusions of this almost otherworldly city, this Paulicea, Andrade, "our Miss São Paulo" as Osvaldo de Andrade snappishly labeled him, like many a poet in any city, found his first true inspirations.

And so, my translation of "Inspiração," the book's first poem:



Onde até na fôrça do
verão havia tempestades
de ventos e frios de
crudelíssimo inverno.
Fr. Luis de Sousa

São Paulo! comoção de minha vida . . .
Os meus amores são flores feitas de original . . .
Arlequinal! . . . Traje de losangos . . . Cinza e ouro . . .
Luz e bruma . . . Forno e inverno morno . . .
Elegâncias sutis sem escândalos, sem ciúmes . . .
Perfumes de Paris . . . Arys!
Bofetadas líricas no Trianon . . . Algodal! . . .

São Paulo! comoção de minha vida . . .
Galicismo a berrar nos desertos da América!

Copyright © The Estate of Mário de Andrade, 1922, 2009. All rights reserved.


Where even at summer's
there were storms
of wind and cold as in the
harshest winter.
Fr. Luis de Sousa

São Paulo! tumult of my life . . .
My loves are flowers fashioned from the original . . .
Harlequinal! . . . Diamond suited . . . Gray and gold . . .
Light and mist . . . Oven and lukewarm winter . . .
Subtle refinements without scandals, without jealousies . . .
Perfumes from Paris . . . Arys!
Lyrical faceslaps in the Trianon . . . Cotton field! . . .

São Paulo! tumult of my life . . .
Gallicism bawling in the deserts of America!

Translation © Copyright, John Keene, 2009. All rights reserved.


  1. And what about Anthropofagia? Did both Andrades have equal involvement after the Art Exhibit in Sao Paolo?

  2. Littlemilk, I think the Manifesto Antropófago (1928) was Oswald de Andrade's brainchild, though it developed from the ideas that he and other members of the Group of Five (which included Mário de Andrade), as well as other Brazilian and foreign Modernists of that era, had been hashing around. Mário de Andrade, who'd broken with Oswald de Andrade over the latter's homophobic attack on him, takes up an analog of the idea in his great novel Macunaíma.

  3. Thanks. Do you have any suggested readings for the intellectual world of 1920's brazil in english? How good are you in portueguse?

  4. Littlemilk, how specific do you want? Try these:

    Through the kaleidoscope : the experience of modernity in Latin America / edited and introduced by Vivian Schelling ; translations by Lorraine Leu. New York : Verso, 2000.

    One hundred years of invention : Oswald de Andrade and the modern tradition in Latin American literature : centenary of Oswald de Andrade. K. David Jackson, ed. Austin, Tex. : Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese/Abaporu Press, 1992.

    The modernist movement in Brazil : a literary study. by John Nist.
    Austin : University of Texas Press, 1967

    My Portuguese is decent; I read it better than I speak it, though once I'm immersed in a Portuguese environment, it flows. But if I have recourse to English, it's tougher for me to speak. I so rarely have opportunities to use it that I have to keep it alive by reading it online. Yet another reason to be thankful to the internet.

  5. thanks. It is true about the internet. That is the only way I practice French. I am becoming a reluctant Spanish student, my job depends on my mastery.

    I wanted to concentrate on Portuguese first . . . I love the language.