The poetry of José Paulo Paes

Image: Lars Englund


Commentary on the book “Prosas followed by minimal Odes”.


I posted on the website The Earth is Round, in May 2021, review originally published in the extinct Jornal da Tarde from the book One for All – Collected Poetry (1986), by José Paulo Paes (1926-1998). The work, with the title Ladino, added 152 poems by the author contained in eight of his books, edited between 1947 and 1983, namely: The student (1947) accomplices (1951) new chilean letters (1954) Epigrams (1958) anatomies (1967) Half word (1973) Residue (1980) and puzzled calendar (1983) – poems preceded by his The Alchemist's Book.

José Paulo Paes studied chemistry, worked in a pharmaceutical laboratory and, for years, in a publishing company. He ended up retiring and then devoted himself entirely to literature, becoming an expert researcher, translator, essayist and poet, regularly collaborating with the literary press. In addition to the aforementioned books, he wrote the literary adventure (1990) Socratic (2001), and children's One letter pulls the other (1992) One number after another (1993) Who laughs best who laughs first (1998) and The revolt of words (1999). In 2008, Companhia das Letras published Poetry Assessment and, still in the early 1990s, this Proses followed by Minimal Odes (1992)


on the back cover of prose…, bringing together 33 compositions by the poet, it reads that the author “covers the main themes that make up his entire production, marked by lucidity, irony, verbal conciseness, political criticism and aversion to sentimentality. Among other themes, the poems deal with love, memories and the proximity of death – with some disbelief, but also with intense lyricism and a good dose of formal experimentalism”.

For writer and critic Marcelo Coelho, José Paulo Paes writes “poetry that, without being confessional, is intimate, full of memories and biographical experiences. He talks about his parents, dead friends, the leg he had to amputate, but he never gives in to the temptations of self-pity and despair”.

The small volume is dedicated to Dora, his beloved companion, who must have loved the inscription: “To Dora, instead of the usual ruby”. already the prose goes in memory of Fernando Góes, “who one day called Poesias a book of his chronicles”.

“Noturno” deals with the dreams of a teenager, while in “Canção de Exílio” naughty reigns. “A portrait” recovers the distant relationship with his father: “I barely knew him/when he was alive./But what does/a man know about another man?/(…)Only when he got sick and I went to get him/at someone else's house/ and brought him to my house (how endless Dora took care of him!)/ we were together longer./ (...) I look up at him on the wall./ I know now, father,/ how much it is to be alive. ” In “another portrait” one imagines another life, without husbands who arrive late “with a bitter taste in their mouth”, where bills are not paid, there are no false teeth, gray hair and wrinkles…

The grandfather is remembered in “JV”, he who was “from Guimarães, “his city in Minho”, where he came from as a young man. He had a bookshop / stationery shop / typography, which “disputed with Seu Juca’s pharmacy the prestige of meeting place for local notables – the vicar, the judge and the police chief, along with less notable figures.” He was a monarchist and ended up dying before the end of World War II.

The poet was born in Taquaritinga, São Paulo, where there were three well-known madmen: Elétrico, João Bobo and Félix, all “loucos useful” (“Crazy”).

Also noteworthy are “Iniciação”, “Nana para Glaura” and “Balancete” – in the latter dealing with hope, uncertainty, love and death. He recalls his friendship with Osman Lins, the friend who has died, and the encounters at the extinct Café Belas-Artes: “Not that the laws of reality/were completely abolished/but there in Curitiba/it was almost Paris./ (…) he never undoes/the circle of friends;/time had frozen/in its best moment./One day/the Belas-Artes Café was closed/and the friends couldn't find/another meeting place./Perhaps because they no longer had/ (goodbye Paris, goodbye)/more reasons to meet/nothing else to say.”


As 13 minimal odes they open with the tragic, but humorous, “My left leg”, which the poet was forced to amputate: “left right/left right/right/right/No leg/is eternal.” In “À Televisão” the theme is the absolute control that the vehicle exerts over people: “Your weather report/tells me here and now/whether it rains or shines./Why go outside?/ (…)War, sex, sport/-you give me everything, everything./I'm going to nail my door:/I don't need the world anymore”.

The critique of consumption is in “To the shopping mall”: “Each store is a new one/nail on our cross./No matter how much we buy/we are always naked/we who wander around your circles/wandering without forgiveness/waiting (until when) /of the Big Sale.”

The ode “To impropriety” explores several of the writer’s fears: “From a sedentary Ceará/laconic Bahian/spendthrift miner/God keep us./Of a ceremonial carioca/modest gaucho/lazy paulista/God forbid and keep us.” In “Ao mirror”, good humor once again sets the tone: “What I enjoy the most/in our so frequent/commerce is your/inside-out pedagogy”.


I finished reading Roses followed by Minimal Odes with a slight smile of satisfaction, going back and forth between his refined and sensitive verses. Anyone who starts reading José Paulo Paes' poems through this book will hardly fail to look for other works by him or even his Complete poetry, edited posthumously. It is a great encouragement to see that, almost 25 years after the death of José Paulo Paes, his production continues to involve us, makes us laugh at ourselves, helps to establish some connections with other contemporary poets, in addition to continuing to provide significant doses of formal experimentation.

*Afranio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ (Duque de Caxias campus).


Jose Paulo Paes. One for All – Collected Poetry. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1986.

Jose Paulo Paes. Proses followed by Minimal Odes. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2023 (

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