Image: Maria Bonomi,


Commentary on the book by the poet Sebastião Uchoa Leite

“Ya todo vida tus ojos / hacen oficial de espias” (Quevedo – “El Basilisco”).

Lurking it is an elusive book, with strength and complexity, but whose hidden poetry hides from view. Book of refusals, which prefers the bias, the shadow, the difficult fascination. Attracted by the sinkhole of secret waters, by what lurks in the dark and broods in secret.
Eccentric, hidden between parentheses, sibylline in allusions, the I that speaks little to us, instead of expressing itself, prefers mere observation or recording the look, without fearing, inside or outside, dark corners and oddities, but without showing itself. , preferring to be veiled. A passing observer, he marries the movement of the eyes to the rhythm of the solitary wanderer and, like the flâneur of Baudelaire, spies everywhere like an incognito prince.

Hence, the poems, divided into two blocks opposed by irony (“A Espeita” and “Antídoto”), form a discontinuous set of apparently objectivist fragments, placing barriers to any lyrical effusion. In fact, they are interconnected by the significant network of a common experience, but intersected and elliptical, which in them is entangled and objectified in the form of small instantaneous fictions. In them, the hidden subject is like a devourer of shadows that seeks by the final judgment of the eyes what must remain from personal memory for the poem to keep secret.

It is not limited to that, however. In secret, he also keeps an opposing impulse towards life outside and the other, a latent and constant yearning to get out of himself and open up: the pleasure of walking in the open air, under the sun or rain; the desire for sensual dissolution in the natural elements; the secret delivery to the similar, targets of an equally attentive look and a furtive, but recurrent, social emotion.

In several poems – “Os Três In-Seres”, “O Que Se Nega”, “Os Passantes da Rua Paissandu”, “Spiritus Ubi Vult Spirat”, “Do Túnel do Ano Passado” –, the wanderings at random through Rio de Janeiro Janeiro, in Recife or in any other city, can lead to a social infra-reality, to an “allighieric hell of the poor”. The street, the only place of valid experience in the words of André Breton, in the time of the avant-garde, is still the place where this “only unknown” walker meets the other, and again with himself.

In all the examples mentioned, the other somehow evokes “O Bicho”, by Manuel Bandeira, a poem from 1947, in which there is the surprising discovery of a being that voraciously swallows garbage, and it is not a dog, cat or mouse , but a man. Now the reality is different; the being is not even a man, but the nameless. They are “in-beings”, or it is “what is denied”, “being-there”, nonsense walled up in a grotesque reality: Hull / Prickly / Against everything / That not the wall / Recluse.

The way out to the street can be the observation of the same interior walling. The I from the inside somehow identifies, by rescuing it through the look, with the other from the outside: “A lo mejor soy otro”, as he says, quoting César Vallejo. Eye dilemmas: out, in; sun, shadows. Whoever sees it could be someone else. But you can also discover in other nameless people, “the homeless”, locked in the Dantesque tunnel of a “lesser Hades”, an identical longing for light. To whom will the eyes that spy belong?

Thus, a fiercely individualist poetry, in its extreme rebelliousness, coming out of a lineage of shadows, with echoes of 18th century Gothic literature, romanticism and symbolism, Poe and Nerval, Lovecraft's craziness, stroll baudelairiana – repeated echoes with a modern parodic sense –, by identifying himself in some way with another that he observes in the street, he opens himself to the social, composes with the ferocity of the outside and gains a political meaning. There is the secret solidarity of the solitary, the invisible community of men of which he is and feels a part, even through the most recalcitrant gesture of refusal.

As in Drummond, the heart locked in individual nonconformity, in the most complete solitude, also beats clumsily in tune with the mistakes and misfortunes of the world. And, finally, there is the supreme irony of those who laugh last: that of “An Artist of Hunger”, by Kafka, whose refusal to eat, the ultimate reason for his art, forgotten by men for being so persistent, is just that of not having found any food to his liking.

Suffocated in itself and turned to the world, but at the same time against the world and enclosed in itself, hermetic and open, cut from shadow and light, the book condenses in the brief form of its compact and cryptic writing, the substance extracted from memory lived or read, permeated by contradictory tensions. Tensions that act not exactly through watertight antitheses or antagonisms, but through sudden intersections and above all according to the oscillating movement of liquids, of contrasting humors that leak, mix, can dissolve.

The dissolving movement is also reflected in the tone: the playful, ironic, parodic spirit allows it to go from reflection to ferocious mockery, from gravity to black humour, from dry register to mocking laughter, modulating an unstable balance of humors between soul and spirit. body, heart and guts.

Under the cover of mystery, he reveals a taste for the grotesque, already mentioned, and for the poetics of matter. He constantly turns to the body and its lower parts, to the secretions and organic fluids that speak so much to the imagination, to bad odors, entrails, vomit, worms. “Visions are viscera”, as he will say in “Truth”. The sarcastic laugh is noticeable. This is because he leans towards the realistic and Rabelaisian side of satire, here with a foot in the earth of Augusto dos Anjos and a certain erotic seduction by the disease itself and by matter in disintegration.

In this line, language also goes, fascinated by the concretist games of other times, now turned to other ends, with the mixture of the colloquial-ironic with foreign, exotic terms or extravagant neologisms – “evil oospheres”, “monophone sun” or “ incosmic”, “pluviopériplo”, “acrelyric” –, accompanying the attraction of the vortex that swallows everything and the very direction of the gaze, magnetized by the horror of the vacuum and by the meticulous contemplation of the liquefaction or undoing of things into nothingness.

And in this way, it subverts, dethrones and pulls down the heightened spirituality of the eyes, situating them as witnesses of life and death as material phenomena, close to cosmic elements, changes in nature, the rhythms of time, meaning, under the the anguishing pressure of the disease, like a “starving time”, of “pleasant waiting”. The biographical element, especially in the face of the pressing harassment of the disease, infiltrates a lot, but is hidden in a hollow, diffuse plot, whose threads are lost at all times.

Only the gaze remains steady – the watch –, stony eyes fixed on the flow of things: waters that liquefy the air, wet the skeleton, dissolve consciousness itself, blur memory, disappear in the secret flow of the body’s interiors or outside:

Life fades away
on that needle
Which fits.

Remarkable end of the poem “Agulha”, one of the best in the book, for the precision, subtlety and contained dramatic intensity with which it captures, in an apparently objective and distant image, the intimate anguish of observing, in progressive funneling, life irresistibly draining away. The inner experience of the disease gains the objective record of the look, in the form of an image. The inside is outside; the outside, inside.

Indeed, fixed in the center is the eye of conscience. Eye of a detective or a spy, which vigilantly follows the ambivalent movements of veiling. Refusing lyrical unveiling, consciousness is constantly on the lookout: it watches and watches itself, it watches the world and itself without rest, curled up in the folds of itself like a viper, hidden in the attics of the shadows that it itself devours. , turning into the disease itself. Or as “A Voice from Underground” puts it:

any conscience
It is a disease
Rummaging in secret.

To peek means, as we know, to observe secretly, to look attentively. The dubious etymology given to this word is a paradox, as it refers to the Latin verb explain, frequentative of explain, which means to make intelligible, to interpret. But it really clears up in this case. In the tiny explanation of peeking, there is probably a desire to bring to light, to make explicit through an attentive look. This movement that links shadow to light, through the gaze, is essential to Sebastião's poetry, as it takes the concrete form of reiterated and haunting images.

In the poem that has the exact title of “Watch”, the fearful image of a hypothetical animal that could have emerged from the simplest observation is formed by assembling details, like a puzzle or cryptogram – some cornered dog like the owner. in the garden of a fenced mansion –, from a film, a documentary or having been transplanted from literary memory, for example, from the “Manual de Zoologia Fantástica” or the “Livro dos Seres Imaginários”, by Jorge Luis Borges:

It's a kind of Cerberus
Nobody passes
nothing escapes
central eye
disguised mouth
that swallows fast
without giving time
then sleep

But, nothing is clear. Spider, snake, sea monster? A fusion of strange beings, a dream being? The ambiguity is maintained until the end, served by the elliptical language, which eliminates any undesirable explanation and clings to the laconic cut, limiting the construction to the smallest decisive traits. It gives more food for thought due to the suggestive power of the little it shows, highlighting every detail that is strong due to its latent aggressiveness. The veiled threat imposes itself with even greater impact because it is not known exactly what it is about, due to the disguise, which is the detail of the mouth, but also the image as a whole and the very construction of the poem, ironically armed to betrayal. , to the bewilderment of the reader.

One can, however, look for an animal among the imaginary fauna that best serves the critical understanding of this poem, in its relation to the book as a whole. Indeed, the relentless nature of stalking, with the emphasis on the central fixity of the eye, may suggest the basilisk, the fabulous reptile that kills by breathing or by looking with that single, fulminating eye on its forehead.

This fantastic and mysterious being is gifted enough to serve the oblique designs of the poem. And it may well serve as an emblem of the whole book, even if it was not the poet's animal of choice, as it symbolizes the fundamental attitude of stalking that is that of the Self (and the other) that expresses itself here, incarnation of power and ambiguity. of the look, which moves between the inside and the outside, the clear and the hidden, the soul and the world.

As in every radically modern work of art, Sebastião's poetry seeks participation in the darkness against the real world, looks at it from the side, arms itself in the shadows, identifies itself with demonic images, with the waste of desire, positions itself on the antisocial side of those who says no back against the wall, demanding the quota of negativity she needs so that she can somehow still aspire to the light, which she also sometimes denies.

Thus, the book can both suggest crossing an infernal and Dantesque tunnel of the division of being, oblivion and death, as well as the integrative exit to the outside, in which the rescue of memory, the erotic dissolution in communion with nature, the sympathetic gaze and humor itself are life-affirming, if problematic, signs. Eros, the “moist eros”, even when it is cruelly shattered in ecstasy or dissolved in the liquid of indistinct matter, still plays, leaving memories of the lost fullness that the dark chaos tends to drag to the sinkhole.

As a whole, obscurity imposes itself first, but poetry always leaps over its own shadow, also opening itself to light, since it is from rejection that it still derives its possibility, its promise to be.

Taken in isolation, the short poems, sometimes with the air of unpretentious notation, seem, at first, insufficient in themselves, and their collection, a random and scattered set. You can also remember, due to the recurrence of motifs and procedures, previous poems by the author, gathered in “Obra em Dobras” (1988), and especially the following two, “A Uma Incógnita” (1991) and “A Ficção Vida” ( 1993), with which the current book actually forms a homogeneous block, by incorporating a similar experience, with inflection, however, different and different consequences.

Nothing is more false, in this sense, than reducing it to the easy appearance, the casual and the already known. Continuity exists, but change is decisive and hard-worked. Although it forms a body with the two previous ones, its meaning for the work as a whole is another, more powerful one, because it represents a more effective treatment of problems posed in the previous stage, now integrated in depth and with greater accuracy.

Indeed, the difficulty it presents is not that of a surface one, like the repeated allusions, which require the reader to master a broad or very specific cultural context, and the hindrance of some Latin words and foreign words, which the sense of humor after all it always saves. All of this was already present in the others, sometimes with the risk of mere obscurity, pedantry or witticisms, and now it sheds its skin, adjusting to the inner need for expression, with a different scope and force.

The deepest difficulty is that of understanding the articulation of the whole, which connects themes and technique and gives a unitary form to what apparently was loose, that is, the difficulty of understanding the process of synthesis and change at once that gave a new physiognomy and particular to this poetry. This is the secret force that attracts the reader by the organic way in which a new subject fits the poet's sneaky and biased way of expression.

His language, crystallized over the years, was suddenly shaken, subverted and enriched by the new and complex experience he had to combine with the core of the composition. The result is neither a singularly rare nor a generally negative poet; it is the particular form he found to express the new matter that constitutes the critical challenge.

And the book immediately imposes itself, asking for a careful reading, as a mental and poetic reworking that is a dense lived experience, although often permeated by the memory of literary readings: the hardships of the disease and the imminent threat of death. With this limiting experience he had to face. The strength of the intimate truth is another, which is now also poetic truth: what came to light, in the form of a “fiction of life”, even more acutely than in the book that bore that title.

It's just that everything now somehow subtly transports itself through the voice of the symbols to the semi-fictional, gaping and incomplete plot, cut into scraps of memory, in the brief and fragmentary poems to which memories of the poet's old avatars return, such as the detective or the spy , but above all its own mythology, the taste of puzzle, of enigmas and unknowns, the fantastic bestiary – the panther and the viper with their perverse erotic insinuation –, the personal imaginary of the previous books, but as a whole remade and enlivened in an unexpected direction: that of the anguish of existence that narrows, under the pressure of fatal illness, and exposes himself in this amalgamation of shadow and light of his verses.

Illness becomes internalized, passes from the body to the soul, establishes itself as an undesirable third party, takes root in the conscience (and certainly also in the unconscious), forces the reworked turns of reflection on oneself, becomes a moral issue and a behavior, resumes, when there is a truce, the isolated being's contact with the world. It is through this accumulated substance, dense, personal and biographical matter, plucked from the entrails of the deepest interiority, that the poet manages to emerge, paradoxically, from himself.

The disease provoked a cataclysm in her guard, opened a breach in that interiority so protected by the constant obsession of order, breaking it in a lancinating and terrible way, forcing her with the brooding of reflection and feeling in front of an infinite abyss, in which the subject liquefies or dissolves, falling “in a fall/in the shadow-silence”. Her fixed eye began to guard lessons of the abyss.

And through this difficult path, the poet opened himself up and gave a particular aesthetic form to a broader historical experience, since it was through him that the general penetrated the individual singularity of his intimately so protected and covered. This is how he turned his solipsism into a symbolic way of being, giving it a social and densely human, exemplary and general sense.

From the title, Lurking is characterized by a peculiar attitude towards the world and art. It is basically a psychological attitude, or rather, a way of seeing, which also implies a way of being and a “psychology of composition”, a way of conceiving artistic work.

The reference to João Cabral should not, however, be confusing, as Sebastião is not, in the sense that matters here, Cabral. Although he values ​​the attitude of vigilance and lucidity in the work of art, he does not compose programmatically in the manner of his fellow countryman (or “in total lucidity”, as Valéry wanted), however much I may share with him the taste of dryness in construction, the depoetization of the poem and the vision of reality. In this respect and many others, he is a Bandeirian.

Bandeira is really the tutelary poet here, with whom he dialogues all the time. First, by the spontaneous surge of poetry, by gathering in a book the latest crop of compositions that came to her when she, poetry, wanted to; then, for allowing himself to be touched by a social emotion similar to that expressed in the poem “O Bicho”, already mentioned, and for the thematic proximity in the questions of illness and death, which he gives, however, a very different treatment. Finally, through the technique of unraveling the poetic of raw denim, of which there are several cases in this book.

But the fundamental thing is that, for Sebastião, unlike Cabral (and, to a certain extent, also Bandeira), the poem is not constructed as the space in which poetry makes itself visible. On the contrary, it is where it tends to hide. A poem like “Espreita”, commented above, is a good example of this. At most, it is the space where poetry can be spied, through a language bias, as a secret, which is both kept there and allowed to leak. The originality of treatment that he was able to impart, in each case, to this broad conception is the profound mark of his personal style, sometimes so biased, subtle and difficult. In fact, it is a means of dealing with the contradictory tensions inserted at the heart of this notion of poetry as a secret, what is kept and what is leaked.

In a very revealing poem, for containing this central vision of poetry and the poetics corresponding to the way of being of the whole book, “Os Sentidos de um Vocábulo em um Dicionário Alemão”, the meanings of the German word close (not mentioned in the text) are unraveled in the Bandeira style:

dense thick compact
flush together
continuous contiguous
hermetically tight
Leak out
Let it go
fit well
thick darkness
close to the water
keep secret
don't let it sweat

At first, the poem seems to suggest just one way of conceiving poetry as a way of condensing language (poetry = condense), evoking the well-known conception of Ezra Pound, so widespread by concretists in our midst. In relation to them, Sebastião always revealed some affinities, but also essential differences, and was sometimes confused, which is regrettable, with his epigones, with whom he has nothing to do, not to mention the quality.

As a principle of condensation, the first verse sounds, constituted by the sequence of the basic meanings of close, when used as an adjective: “Dense thick compact”. But the sequence of the utterance ends up forming a much more complex whole, marked by surprising and inexhaustible contradictions, in the tense web that builds up as the opposite meanings of the German term in its various nominal and verbal uses are added up. Suddenly, arbitrary denotations of a word in dictionary status start to mean something very different, not because of the relationship they would have with a possible intended reality, but because of the way they fit, cohesively, in the context of the poem, which without eliminating the references, makes them ambiguous and problematic. Mutual semantic relations are necessary, and an enormous light is opened by the harmony of contradictory tensions included in the same contiguous space, in which the reader's attention is concentrated.

And finally, just as the dark becomes light, the sharp irony is shown, as unexpected as everything else in this intricate semantic network that results from the fabric of oppositions, however placed in continuity in the space that is at once closed and empty of the text. He closes them to open them.

The core of the contradictions, central to the poem and to the whole book, is precisely the idea of ​​poetry as an inclusive and complex image in which the open and the closed coexist in tense harmony, in which the dense darkness can become light, in which the secret, which is guarded by the web of words, allows itself to be contradictorily transpired.

In a form that so much marks the limit and wants to be dry and compact, the poem, “close to the water”, is, paradoxically, in Sebastião’s poetry, a space of liquids, of mysteriously amended waters, in which consciousness liquefies, and the Self and the world mingle. Permeable space of communicating vessels, ambiguous as the eyes, penetrated by the reality of the inside and the outside, where, in fact, the interior and the exterior are confused, the figure and the reflection are confused, the shadow and the light intersect in disconcerting Bright dark.

Like the body, which the disease makes suspect, it is the space for the release of clear and dark liquors, the place of stalking. That imaginary and secret fluid is formed there and can leak to which the poet, through folds, shadows and biases – the hell of language – leads us: what, finally, we simply call poetry.

*David Arrigucci Jr. He is a retired full professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of the trapped scorpion (Company of Letters).


Sebastian Uchoa Leite. Lurking. São Paulo, Perspective, 96 pages.

Originally published on Journal of Reviews / Folha de S. Paulo, on June 10, 2000.


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