EZRA POUND IN THE WORLD
EZRA POUND’S ARRIVAL IN BRAZIL
by Rodolfo Jaruga
"Look at Brazilian coffee"
Brazil is mentioned only once in The Cantos, but in a crucial passage. Pound, in Canto 46, is concluding his economic hypothesis, developed in the first part of the poem, that banks create money out of nothing (ex nihil), without producing wealth, and that the financialization of capital is the origin and cause of the main ethical and political problems of modern Western civilization. It is at this crucial point of Pound’s work that the Brazilian Coffee Crisis of 1930 is mentioned as evidence to back up his hypothesis. Considering that he probably did not have in-depth knowledge of Brazilian politics and economy, Pound was accurately pointing out what can easily be considered the most important event in the first half of the 20th century in Brazilian history: the Coffee Crisis. Indeed, the sudden and abrupt fall in the price of coffee in 1930 had a direct impact on national politics, preparing the ground for a revolution that extinguished the First Republic and launched to power Getúlio Vargas, who would govern the country for 15 years, starting a period of populism in Latin America, very similar, ideologically, to Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Brazilian coffee was mostly produced in the Province of São Paulo, and the excedent reserves generated by the export of this commodity made the industrial development possible for the city of São Paulo, which in the 1950’s would become the cultural heart of Brazil. Concrete art was the expression of this economic flourish. And concrete poetry, the literary ramification of a wider artistic movement, sought its theoretical foundation in Ezra Pound’s poetic reflections.
I. The meaning of Noigandres
And he said: "Now is there anything I can tell you?
And I said: “I dunno sir,” or
“Yes, Doctor, what do they mean by noigandres?”
And he said: “Noigandres! NOIgandres!
“You know for seex mon’s of my life
“Effery night when I go to bett, I say to myself:
"Noigandres, eh, noigandres,
now what the DEFFIL can that mean!"
Noigandres is a Provençal word that Pound could not understand and that the philologist Emil Lévy, mentioned in Canto 20, could not explain either. Noigandres is also, and not by chance, the name of a literary magazine founded in São Paulo in 1952 by the poets Décio Pignatari (1927-2012), Haroldo de Campos (1929-2003), and Augusto de Campos (1931): it would play an important role in the development and diffusion of Brazilian concrete poetry. Noigandres, the name this group of poets became known for, was mostly responsible for the dissemination of Ezra Pound’s work in Brazil. Pound’s prose and poetry were broadly publicized by the group, since they not only elected him as their magazine’s godfather, but introduced him as one of the precursors of concrete poetry. Before the Noigandres, Pound was no more than an illustrious unknown.
In 1952, when the magazine was first issued, it was impossible to identify any stylistic connection between Brazilian pre-concrete poems and Pound’s. But as concrete poetry started to develop and several texts introducing the movement were published, Pound eventually came to be explicitly invoked as a direct precursor of concrete poetry: the ideogrammic method of composition (described in ABC of Reading) foreshadowed, according to the Noigandres Group, the end of the verse, or at least, the end of the poem built on linear and musical foundations. Pound’s great poetical achievement, they said, was to implode the rational logic of western discourse, by escaping the shackles of linear syllogism. This poetic experience had been overshadowed by World War II and deserved to be recovered and elevated to the rank of guide for the future development of poetry.
Pound’s name, however, was not the only one to justify or imbue with authority their incipient concrete poetry: the notion of spatiality in Mallarmé’s poems (and Apollinaire’s, to a lesser extent); the morphosyntactic deconstruction of Cumming’s poems; and the multi-lingual polysemy of Finnegans Wake by Joyce, completed the concrete equation. The future of poetry, declared the Noigandres, would be antidiscursive and objectively visual. In 1956, the group signed one of its first manifestoes.
the old formal bedrock and its syllogistic-discursiveness, strongly dismantled in the beginning of the century, is once again working as prop for the ruins of a damaged poetic, anachronistic hybrid of atomic heart and medieval cuirass. (…) mallarmé (un coup de dés-1897), joyce (finnegans wake), pound (cantos-ideogram), cummings and in the background, Apollinaire (calligrammes) and the futuristic/surrealistic experimental attempts, form the roots of a new poetic procedure that tends to
impose itself on the conventional organization whose formal unity is the verse (including the free one) (Teoria da Poesia Concreta 44, my translation).
The Noigandres Magazine nº 4 published, in 1957, its most famous manifesto, called Plano Piloto para a Poesia Concreta (Pilot Plan for the Concrete Poetry), here is an excerpt:
concrete poetry: product of a critical evolution of forms. considering the historical cycle of the verse (rhythmic-formal unity) as finished, the concrete poetry starts by taking notice of the graphic space as a structural agent. qualified space: temporal-spaced structure, instead of a temporistic-temporal simple development, instead of a temporistic-linear development. whence the importance of the concept of ideogram, from its general sense of spatial or visual syntax, to its specific sense of (fenollosa/pound) composition method based on the analogue direct juxtaposition, not logical-discursive, of elements (10).
The ideogrammic method of composition served as the theoretical foundation for concrete poetry. Texts like the ones above, advertising more than providing a critical analysis, proliferated in periodicals of all latitudes in Brazil, thus Ezra Pound became well known to the public as the author of the long poem The Cantos who deconstructed logical-discursive Western forms. In the decades of 1950 and 1960, the poems in Personae (1926) did not catch the attention of Brazilian poets, their emphasis fell entirely on The Cantos, since they were particularly interested in the method of composition of the poem–the structural elements of its language. Analysing the conception of ideogrammic method of the most theoretically active member of the group, Haroldo de Campos, Marjorie Perloff summarizes:
For Haroldo, the interest of the ideogram is not in its status as a visual sign that stands for a particular meaning; rather, the ideogram brings to our attention the "palpable side of the sign" in its "relational, parallelistic, paratactic syntax." Relationality becomes the key term, and the units to be related are phonemes and morphemes as well as words and phrases.
From this perspective, Concrete poetry is less a matter of spatial form and typographic device than of "ideogrammatizing" the verbal units themselves.
Actually, the link between Pound and the Noigandres Group consists of their reading of The Cantos as a poem that presents a new language. Their reading was highly influenced by the critical thinking of Hugh Kenner, especially his three chapters about the ideogram in the Poetry of Ezra Pound. The reading of this book was fundamental for the theoretical development of concrete poetry, maybe even more than Pound’s poetry itself. In the 1950’s, the theoretical reflections of the group, concerning ideogrammatic poetry, owed much to texts such as The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry by Ernest Fenollosa, and The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram by Sergei Eisenstein, both discussed by Hugh Kenner. The connection between Pound’s poetry and Mallarmé’s, which is the very basis of Brazilian concrete poetry, also comes from Kenner’s critique.
The first and strongest influence Pound had on the Noigandres did not derive exactly from his poetry, but rather from the ideogrammic method of composition explained in his ABC of Reading. Concrete poems resemble little, if anything, The Cantos, either in general or a particular canto. The Cantos are immersed in the waters of history, politics and literary tradition. The concrete poems, short and straightforward, have as their privileged object language itself; they put the world in brackets, suffocating the noise of historical and civilizational conflicts.
II. Bright Brazilians, Blasting at Bastards
In 1953, the Noigandres Group wrote to Ezra Pound, mailing to him a copy of the first number of their magazine, initiating this way a letter exchange that would lead to Haroldo visiting Rapallo in 1959. This story has not been told yet and deserves to be the object of further and careful study, but something could be said here about the relationship between this group of young Brazilians and the old American.
At first, Pound, although gentle and sympathetic to them, seemed to care little about the poetic adventure of the Noigandres. His letters, some handwritten, are short, lacking any discussion. In one of them, Pound saluted the poets calling them "Bright Brazilians, Blasting at Bastards," and transcribed some words, almost incomprehensible, attributed by him to Camões. The Brazilians were stupefied, they could not believe the master replied to them, and they sounded in their first letters almost as groupies. However, as the conversation about publishing The Cantos in Brazil became more real, with the announcement from the Centro de Documentação do Ministério da Educação e Cultura (Center of Documentation of the Ministry of Education and Culture) saying it would be published, Pound started taking them seriously. Impressed with his publication by a governmental agency, Pound asked them about the possibility of going to Brazil to teach literature. He wrote on December 21st, 1957:
Dear Noigandres, Time has come when IF I had a clear official invitation from SOMEWHERE, say S. Paulo, to come and inhabit and lecture on, say Chinese, or any other LITERATURE, it might just possibly help get me out of quod, i. e. incarceration. If your Ministero of Education cd. express such a desire, saying they don’t regard me as political (...). If you know someone there, even if not the Lord GOD (...), cd/ write me and ask me if it wd/ be possible and if I wd/ come and on what conditions". (...) I suppose they wd/ give me some sort of shack to inhabit. Not a question of high salary, or even of salary. Anyhow, lets hear what you can do. The Min. Educ. wanting Cantos was the FIRST official governmental recognition / The UNIVERSITY of Mexico isn’t the STATE (Poesia 238).
But the Noigandres Group did not have enough influence or prestige to ensure Pound would have a proper job, so the poet ended up not coming to Brazil. Moreover, the publication of the Cantos was approved thanks to the ignorance of the editors in regard to Pound’s literature, and to the lack of their editorial judgement, not because of poetic or political conviction. In addition, Ezra Pound was being introduced in Brazil as the poet who revolutionized the form of poetry at the beginning of the century. The ideological content of his texts in prose, and even the historical/civilizational debate in The Cantos, had been completely left out by the Noigandres Group. Their answer was:
Dear Mr. Pound: Brazilian edition of "Cantares," although official, means only that in charge of Cultural Diffusion Dept. we find a man of good will and reasonable open mind, who accepted our proposal, making possible the work (he has some autonomy within his field). Of course, this does not implies (sic) that Brazilian authorities will take positive initiatives like the invitation you’ve mentioned. On the other hand, simple divulgation of your wish to come here and teach literature would certainly arise considerable interest among Brazilian writers, the young specially (YCAL 43 37/1571).
The evasive answer of the group, in a letter dating March 10th, 1958, must have frustrated old Pound, who was trying hard to escape his incarceration at St. Elizabeth Hospital. Coincidentally, from this point on their relationship would be conflicting: Pound and Haroldo de Campos started an argument about formal experimenting with poetry. Pound wrote, in a letter on January 2nd, 1959:
Adult readers will naturally be more interested in the writing of men who have something to say than in attempts to dress up a cliché in some fancy style that will catch attention. (...) A new content will impose a new form. The new form cannot rise without it (YCAL 43 37/1571).
The reply would come in March of 1959, in a letter that was probably the last one from the group:
Thank you very much for yr last letter. Indeed we prefer to engage ourselves in a fighting dialogue rather than ventriloquize before a living Buda. (...) We believe that a new form creates a new content. Or better: that there is a dialectical, isomorphic relation between form & content. The artisanal cycle of poetry is closed with the monumental apex of THE CANTOS. (...) A new poetry coheres with a new era and its peculiar physiognomy. Ours is progressively rational and characteristically technical one. (...) So, as we firmly believe, the greatest, permanent message of THE CANTOS’ major poetry is its own way of dealing with language, its ending in a progressive palimpsest of ideographs. (...) Admiration is a form of action, not of contemplation. You have taught our generation (the living part of it) to believe this. Faithful yours, noigandres (YCAL 43 37/1571).
Ready to confront their master, the young poets may have realized that their poetry was radically different from Pound’s. Still, the epistolary quarrel did not stop Haroldo de Campos, from visiting Pound in August, in Rapallo when traveling around Europe in April 1959. The meeting was described in a melancholic account entitled I Punti Luminosi (Poesia 243-250). In this story Haroldo does not let any friction with Pound come to light and Pound is portrayed as a wise and tired elder, fighting to gather cultural fragments of a Western civilization shattered by the Second World War. They talked about Cummings, Eliot, Mallarmé, Henry James, and Hugh Kenner. Pound would have said about The Cantos, still being written at the time: “That is the most difficult part: the Paradise. The Thrones. It is hard to find people to inhabit paradise. A paradise that is not artificial.” There is no evidence of Haroldo and Pound writing to each other after this episode.
III. The Concrete Cantares
In 1960, finally, the Cantares were published. The title of the book was recommended by Pound himself, “if not too late you can use the title cantares (...) cantares de gesta being nearer the real nature of the poem than cantos". The result was 17 cantares (from 1 to 7, 12, 13, 20, 30, 45, 49, 79, 80, 81, 90) in a bilingual edition, without notes, containing a short introduction written by Haroldo de Campos. The translations were all made by Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, and Décio Pignatari, together. According to them the English text follows the editions, New Directions of 1948, Faber & Faber of 1954, and All Insegna del Pesce D’oro (Milano) of 1955.
The translation is moderately good and quite literal, there is very little creative liberty. The variations of tone and linguistic registers were nullified. Translators had access to a minimal bibliography that certainly was of great help: the translation of Pisan Cantos by José Vázquez Amaral into Spanish, the Annotated Index to the Cantos of Ezra Pound, and Kenner's Poetry of Ezra Pound. They also mention that they consulted an analysis of the first 11 Cantos published in The Analyst, edited by Robert Mayo. It is known as well, that in 1956 Décio Pignatari met Eva Hesse, translator of The Cantos into German, in order to discuss the poem.
The brief introductory essay by Haroldo the Campos follows the same pattern of his texts published in the previous decade: he shows Pound as a revolutionary of the poetic form. The text reinforces what had been said about Pound and his Cantos, expanding the formalistic approach:
the goal of this introduction is the work of pound itself: pound, the inventor of forms (inventor de formas). (…) it is possible to talk about pound, creator of verbal forms, with the same simplicity as one would talk about mondrian, inventor of plastic forms, or webern, innovator of the sonorous universe. (…) pound offers us the ideogram. the ideogrammic method, as organizing principle of the cantos, is as important to contemporary poetry, as the serial principle is important to current musical structures. the ideogram puts an end to the smokescreen of syllogism: it allows us to have direct access to the object; a couple or more words, a couple or more blocks of ideas, when put together simultaneously, criticizing one another, set in motion a game of relations with such an intensity and immediacy, that a logical discourse would barely be able to evoke (Cantares 7-13, my translation).
Some of the cantos had already been published in periodicals starting in 1955, echoing concrete manifestos and creating the environment for a reception of the book that crowned a decade of activities disseminating Pound’s work in Brazil.
Even though concrete poetry slowly lost some of its appeal over the 1960s, the literary activity of the members of Noigandres Group went on for another three decades, and Pound never ceased to be in the poetic horizon of their discourse. Haroldo de Campos, as a scholar, wrote dozens of articles quoting and discussing Pound, especially in his texts about creative translation and new forms of poetry (Transcriação, Ideograma and A Arte no Horizonte do Provável). Augusto de Campos organized a book published in Pound’s centenary year in 1985, entitled Poesia, gathering the Cantares from 1960 and the translation of numerous lesser poems by Pound, made by many poets. In this book, Augusto de Campos presented his famous translation of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, preceded by a long introduction. José Lino Grünewald, a
late member of the Group, published the complete translation of the Cantos in 1986. Nonetheless, the approach of the 1950’s, focusing on the ideogrammic method of composition, remained alive in the Brazilian reception of Pound. He is still read in Brazil as a poet who revolutionized the form of poetry. This may be true, but is not the only relevant aspect of his work, and perhaps not even the most important. The complex historical discussion of The Cantos, its economic ideas, its political conflicts, the way it deals with the literary tradition, the history of China and the American Revolution, all of these have been completely ignored by Brazilian readers, poets and critics, so far. The rest of his work was also radically simplified, except for rare achievements such as the beautiful translation of Lustra by the poet Dirceu Villa, accompanied by notes and a robust introduction. But the overall picture shows that Pound’s reception in Brazil is still closely linked to the Noigandres approach. His work, however, can and should be discussed in new and broader perspectives.
Haroldo de Campos published in the year of 1998 the book Crisantempo, in which we find a poem about Ezra Pound, not a concrete one. We finish this article by translating it:
o poeta ezra pound desce aos infernos
não para o limbo
dos que jamais foram vivos
nem mesmo para o inferno
dos que perseveraram no erro
apesar de alguma contrição
tardia e da silente senectude
- diretamente com retitude -
o velho ez
já fantasma de si mesmo
e em tanta danação
quanto fulgor de paraíso
the poet Ezra Pound visits hell
not for the limbo
of those who were never alive
not even to the inferno
of those who insisted on failing
in spite of any late contrition
and silent senectude
-directly with rectitude-
ghost of himself now
and in so much damnation
what a bright paradise
Campos, Augusto. Campos, Haroldo. Pignatari, Décio. Teoria da Poesia Concreta. São Paulo: Livraria Duas Cidades, 1975.
Campos, Augusto. Campos, Haroldo. Pignatari, Décio. “Plano Piloto para a Poesia Concreta.” Noigandres 4 (1962).
Campos, Augusto. Pound, Ezra. Poesia. São Paulo: Hucitec, 1985.
Campos, Haroldo. Transcriação. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2013.
—. Crisantempo. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2004.
—. A Arte no Horizonte do Provável. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1969.
—. Ideograma. São Paulo: Cultrix, 1977.
Edwards, John Hamilton and William W. Vasse. Annotated Index to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: U of California P, 1957.
Eisenstein, Sergei, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram. The Haiku Foundation Digital Library. Free online.
Beinecke Library. Ezra Pound Papers, YCAL Mss 43, box 37, folder 1571.
Fenollosa, Ernest and Ezra Pound. “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry.” Instigations. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920. 357-88.
Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. London: Faber, 1951.
Perloff, Marjorie. “‘Concrete Prose’: Haroldo de Campos’ Galáxias and After.” Electronic Poetry Center. Free online.
Pound, Ezra. Poesia. São Paulo: Hucitec, 1985.
—. Cantares de Ezra Pound. Trans. Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, and Décio Pignatari. Rio de Janeiro: Serviço de Documentação-MEC, 1960.
—. Os Cantos. Trans. José Lino Grünewald. São Paulo: Nova Fronteira, 1986.
—. Lustra. Trans. Dirceu Villa. São Paulo: Demônio Negro, 2011.