The kidnapping of Roberto Schwarz's poetry



Considerations on the poetic work of the literary critic

The new generations, including his most recent disciples, are unaware of Roberto Schwarz's poetic work. The literary critic's predilection for the essay form should in itself raise suspicion of his affinity for poetry. Schwarz resists the collective effort to erase traces, announcing, in the bibliographic notes of the numerous editions of his books, the publication of bird in the drawer (1959, Massao Ohno) and veteran hearts (1974, Frenzy Collection).

Never reissued, the two volumes attest to Schwarz's commitment to a certain poetic lineage. The sparse reflections on the poetry genre in his collections of essays – a smaller number of pages than those dedicated to theater and cinema – can be considered a “by-product” of his artistic militancy.[I] But they should also be read as an indirect explanation and defense of his poetic conception.

The evaluation of poems by Mario and Oswald de Andrade, contrasted in the articles “The psychologism in the poetics of Mário de Andrade” (1965, The mermaid and the suspicious) and “The wagon, the tram and the modernist poet” (1987, What time is it?), indicate that, from the first modernism, Schwarz recommends following Oswald, but not Mário. A choice, by the way, shared with the main poets of his generation.

In the other articles on the genre, Schwarz takes a stand in front of his contemporaries, highlighting Francisco Alvim, his partner in the “Frensi Collection”. He also practices a reckoning with concretism, in a fierce analysis of a poem by Augusto de Campos.

His two books are out of circulation and in the collection of very few libraries. Some poems, however, can be read in 26 poets today (1976, Labor), the first commercial edition of the so-called “marginal” poetry, in a selection organized by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda, republished in 2007 (Aeroplano). It is, in my opinion, one of the high points of the anthology, which is nothing to be desired in comparison with the other authors of the “Coleção Frenesi” – Cacaso, Francisco Alvim, Geraldo Carneiro and João Carlos Pádua –, or with poets from other groups inserted there (“nuvem gypsy”, “tropicalistas”, “neoconcretos” etc.).

The most recent anthology of the period, 1970 (2012, Azougue), despite its numerous merits, ignores the poet Roberto Schwarz. Accentuating the strangeness, Sergio Cohn, the editor, devotes about a third of his introduction to comments on the book. 26 poets today.

The most recurrent (and pertinent) criticism of Heloísa Buarque's anthology emphasizes its geographic limitation – it would be a mere excerpt from the Rio de Janeiro art scene. The dissemination of the poets of the Frenesi collection, in which veteran hearts, does not escape this tuning fork. After all, released in October 1974, at the Cobra Norato bookstore, it constitutes a prominent expression of the poetry that was then made in Guanabara Bay.

At the time, exiled, Roberto Schwarz resided in Paris. His inclusion in the group is due to his correspondence and friendship with Antonio Carlos de Brito, known as Cacaso, informal organizer of the collection. The books, a step beyond the volumes printed on mimeograph machines, were edited by Mapa Filmes, owned by Zelito Vianna, the same producer of, among many others, earth in trance e Goat marked for death. The graphic project and the covers were in charge of the designer Ana Luiza Escorel, daughter of Gilda de Mello Souza and Antonio Candido.[ii]

Right at the beginning of the “New Republic”, the broad front of poets, hitherto united in the fight against the dictatorship, fell apart. The most strident noise of this split consisted of the controversy raised by the publication, in January 1985, of the poem “póstudo”, by Augusto de Campos, in the feuilleton, cultural supplement of the Folha de S. Paul.[iii] Roberto's critical analysis was contested in a reply by Augusto, in which he was accused of being “more sociologist than critic and more critic than poet”.[iv]

Augusto de Campos, even in the midst of disqualifying his opponent, still “recognized” Roberto Schwarz as a poet. This affiliation will be neglected in the repercussions of this conflict – beyond the boxing – in the demonstrations on both sides of this “fla-flu” in São Paulo.

Leda Tenório da Mota, professor at PUC-SP, self-proclaimed member of the Perdizes group, in About Brazilian literary criticism in the last half century (2002, Imago),[v] in reconstructing the controversy, he classifies Schwarz as “mainly a prose writer, although it occurs to him to sign bisexually volumes of poetry, considered “imperite” by his critics”.

On the other hand, the tribute book A dialectical critic on the periphery of capitalism: reflections on the work of Roberto Schwarz (2007, Companhia das Letras) almost completely ignores his two poetry books. The exception is found in Francisco Alambert's article, which mentions, for rhetorical purposes, the reception of poems grouped in birds in the drawer by the then modernist icon Sergio Milliet.

This kidnapping is perhaps the result of an itch, quite understandable in the current situation, fraught with “false moralisms”. The vocabulary, content and general line of birds in the drawer e veteran hearts are in profound disagreement with the “common sense” of our time. In the poem “Fairy Tale”, for example, it is said “the rat had turned into a prince charming with a hard-on / Cinderella's talking pussy drooled through her whiskers”.

The strategy of using expressions close to bathroom graffiti aimed first and foremost at breaking with the elevated diction imposed by the “45 generation”, “high modernism” and “concretism” (especially by Haroldo). This gesture is shared by the most disparate poets such as Roberto Piva and Zuca Zardan.

The effect of this poetry in the “Opening” years (1975-1984) was immeasurable. Reading it provoked a kind of breath of liberation in relation to the political, cultural and social conservatism of the military regime. If the outstanding “scholar” – author of articles in The modern times and from the already famous essay on “out of place ideas” – he had written poems such as “Conto de fairy” or “Passeata” – “stick to imperialism/down with the pope’s ass” – one acquired the conviction that it was not mere illusion the slogan proclaimed on the walls in May 1968 – “everything is allowed”.

“Passeata” constitutes a kind of synthesis of the tone that permeates veteran hearts. The inversion procedure used in his composition, the stylistic figure called “chiasma”, is recurrent in the dialectic tradition, appearing in bursts in the prose of the young Karl Marx. The phrases intersected in the poem refer to two libertarian lineages: that of political resistance, embodied in the anti-imperialist struggle, and that of the counterculture, based on a demand for a change in behavior that does not even leave out the sexual life of the supreme pontiff.

The connection between artistic form and historical experience has its apex in the poem “stainless” – “Brushed his teeth until they bleed. She stopped brushing / when they started to bleed. Don't brush until they bleed!/ My teeth bleed as soon as I start brushing them. Before,/ I had to brush a lot, now it's time to start and they're already bleeding./ Just approach the brush and they start to bleed./ Sometimes I think of a softer brush, but I know that/ even a shaving brush rubbed a lot, it doesn't do less/ effect than the wire”.[vi]

The movement of discontinuity and inversion of perspectives; “of indeterminate, more exact construction”, the refusal to individualize either the characters or the person, combines voices that “many times, thanks to the juggling of dramaturgy, we do not know who they are, to whom they are addressed or to whom, among those present, the poem’s title itself owes, which is not a neutral frame and participates in the game of uncertainties of the rest”.[vii]

It is an aesthetic resource of international modernism – recurrent in the novels of William Faulkner, and which reaches masterly expression in the short story “Señorita Cora, by Julio Cortázar. The historical consciousness there aesthetically translated, in the alliance between imagination and reflection, is not local, national or cosmopolitan, it is indeterminate in the narrow framework of the world system, it alludes to the malaise in capitalism.

When a certain “narrator” appears, the person poetics is composed in the figure of the exile, manifested in “Emigração 71” or in the final verses of “Convalescença”… “in a quiet/sudden way happiness passes through my/trembling legs and the sudden, choked/sobbing desire to live/cars standing on both sides of the street / the sky covered / despite everything the beauty / how many friends arrested / I wear a coat”. An omnipresent condition marked by intense suffering, even in the face of the festive arrival of spring in Paris.

Poems swarm here and there that resort to local color, attempts to show the makings of the national identity (of the allegory). The first stanza of “informe” says: “ridiculousness married sinister/his son is macabre and minister”.[viii] However, Schwarz tries to remain alert, avoiding embarking on an evolutionary conception of history, attentive to the static inherent in the dynamism of capital: “it is an illusion of fools [...] we want to believe that everything is not the same” (“politics of souls” ).

The exiled condition, general condition of the person de veteran hearts, is expanded in time and space. 16 short poems are grouped under the title “Canções do exile” referring to Gonçalves Dias. The supposedly autobiographical prose poem “Depois do telejornal” reports the encounter with an old deaf aunt who “She has been in New York since 42, fled from the Nazis in 39, was interned in 40 in a French camp, in 41 she moved to a barracks in Casablanca her mother lost her in Buchenwald”.

In the manner of the narrator of minimum morality, by Theodor W. Adorno, Schwarz “instead of dwelling on the description of idiosyncrasies, of irreducible specificities […] underlines, in the banished condition, the condensation that makes him an exemplary figure of mutilated life”.[ix]

Thus, it only remains for the individual in capitalism to fight for political and social emancipation. Anyone who wants to fit in is doomed like (in the poem) “Ulysses”, “hope placed in a handsome salary,/veteran hearts,/this valley of tears. These shitty pinnacles.”

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor in the Department of Sociology at USP. Author, among other books, of Émile Durkheim: social fact and division of labor (Attica).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on July 30, 2017.



[I] Period portrait: marginal poetry, 1970s (1981, Funarte) quotes the following excerpt from Roberto Schwarz's statement, “poetry was a bit of a by-product of intellectual life [...] of critic […] poetry was then a by-product” (p. 156).

[ii] In testimony to Messeder Pereira, Schwarz tells that the originals of veteran hearts had been rejected by Civilização Brasileira (cf. Period portrait: marginal poetry, 1970s, P. 157). The person in charge of selecting the literary works to be published at the time was the poet Moacir Félix.

[iii] Schwarz reports that one of the points of his identification with Cacaso was his criticism of concretism (cf. Period portrait: marginal poetry, 1970s, P. 143).

[iv] CAMPOS, Augustus, On the edge of the edge (1989, Companhia das Letras), p. 176.

[v] MOTA, Leda Tenorio da Mota. About Brazilian literary criticism in the last half century, P. 60.

[vi] In the article about Elephant, by Francisco Alvim, Schwarz argues that his generation seeks to deny abstraction, asceticism, the geometry of the constructivist approach (common to João Cabral and the Concrete artists). He sought to decouple poetry's emphasis on the word, valuing everyday speech. In general, they sought to make use of the short poem, the ready make and artifices of pop art for a poetic structure based on minimal units, it mixes Oswald's joke-poem with Drummond's clear riddle (cf.. Martino versus Lucrecia, P. 137-142)

[vii] Schwarz's Commentary on the Book Elephant, by Francisco Alvim, who perfectly describes procedures in his own poetry. In: SCHWARZ, Roberto. Martino versus Lucrecia, P. 120 (2012, Companhia das Letras).

[viii] Any resemblance to the current government in Brazil is purely coincidental.

[ix] MUSSE, Richard. “Diagnosis of barbarism”. In: Philosophy and culture. Festscript for Scarlet Marton (Barcarolla).

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