Translator's notes

Two concrete poems

By Paulo Leminski

Central to Paulo Leminski’s poetry are two formative movements: the scholarly Poesia Concreta, or Brazilian Concretism, developed in Sâo Paulo (1950s–60s); and 1960s–70s counter-culture. In Concretism, the poem is designed for both eye and ear. Material forms on the page, their de- or re-construction and their spatial arrangement become meaningful. Concrete poetry draws on ‘ideogram’, and non-verbal communication, the poem as an object in itself, not necessarily an interpretation of external objects or subjective feelings.

In letters, Leminski refers to himself as one of ‘the last Concretists and the first I know not what’ alluding to a more experimental and transgressive style that would characterize his later poetry. These qualities are associated with so-called Poesia Marginal, a literary aspect of Beat-influenced 1960s–70s Brazilian counter-culture. During this era, there was a self-conscious movement across the arts to syncretize the outside with Brazilian culture – to ‘Tropicalize’.
In Paulo Leminski’s work this is most eðective in his development of haiku in the Portuguese language. Haiku here does not necessarily retain the classic structure of seventeen syllables. Instead, it captures its imagistic essence, or as he put it: ‘words beyond words, gestures, experiences, things in themselves...’

lua na água (‘moon on water’) illustrates Leminski’s sense of haiku within an experimental concretist form. The orginal poem contains only the lower three sets of lines. The top line of each set contains words and underneath what appear as vertical reflections. The dissolving of six le,ers into four words – lua (moon), na (on), agua (water), alguma (some) – creates a horizontal movement from le/ to right as if vanishing out of sight. Leminksi alludes to Zen Buddhism where the symbol of moon on water signifies the impermanence of things.

The reworked version here repeats the poem above as if it were seen in a mirror, lengthening the pattern and forming a crescent.

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