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Décio Pignatari, 1927-2012

By Harriet Staff

Brazilian poet Décio Pignatari, long associated with concrete poetry, has died, as Charles Bernstein reports on Jacket2. As Bernstein writes: “He was 85 and lived in Sao Paulo. With [brothers] Augusto and Haroldo de Campos he edited the magazne Noigandres e Invenção and they together wrote Teoria da Poesia Concreta (1965).” That’s him up top, center, circa 1950.

There are films/visual poems and other resources up at UBUWEB, including a paper by Mary Ellen Solt on the Brazilian concrete poets. A bit of history:

In 1952, the year Gomringer wrote his first finished constellation “avenidas,” three poets in São Paulo, Brazil–Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Decio Pignatari–formed a group for which they took the name Noigandres from Ezra Pound’s Cantos. In Canto XX, coming upon the word in the works of Arnaut Daniel, the Provencal troubadour, old Levy exclaimed: “Noigandres, eh, noigandres / Now what the DEFFIL can that mean!” This puzzling word suited the purposes of the three Brazilian poets very well; for they were working to define a new formal concept. The name noigandres was both related to the world heritage of poems and impossible for the literary experts to define. They began publishing a magazine of the same name, and within the year had begun correspondence with Pound and had established contact with concrete painters and sculptors in São Paulo and with musicians of the avant-garde.

Pound was not the sole influence, of course:

NOIGANDRES 4 appeared in March of 1958 with poster poems and a synthesis of the theoretical studies and writings of the Noigandres group from 1950 onwards. It bore the title “pilot plan for concrete poetry” and the signatures of Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and Pignatari. In the “pilot plan” the concrete poem is advanced as the “product of a critical evolution of forms” from Mallarmé through Joyce-Pound-Cummings. In “Un coup de dés” (1897) Mallarme made the spaces on the page (“blancs”) and “typographical devices . . . substantive elements of composition.” This was the starting place. Apollinaire’s Calligrams were another step in the evolution toward the concrete poem. Also his belief that: “il faut que notre intelligence s’habitue à comprendre synthético-ideographiquement au lieu de analytico discursivement.” But the actual method of the Noigandres poets derives from THE CANTOS of Ezra Pound (“ideogrammic method”); James Joyce’s ULYSSES and FINNEGAN’S WAKE (“word-ideogram; organic interpenetration of time and space” ); and the experimental poems of e. e. cummings (“atomization of words, physiognomical typography; expressionistic emphasis on space.)” The montage technique of Eisenstein, Futurism, and Dada also contributed. And the work of Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954) and João Cabral de Melo Neto ( 1920-), Brazilian poets.

Having freed itself from the requirements of the “formal rhythmical unit,” the concrete poem was said to begin with the awareness “of graphic space as a structural agent.” Like [Swiss poet Eugen] Gomringer, the Noigandres poets turned their backs on the linear concept of form (“mere linear-temporistical development”), putting in its place the concept of “space-time structure.” And this was not less but more tied in with the problem of content. . . .

Solt elaborates upon Pignatari’s famous piece “Beba Coca Cola” (Drink Coca Cola), 1957, which Bernstein mentions on his blog.

coca cola

She writes:

In “boba coca cola” ( “drink coca cola”) Decio Pignatari makes an anti-advertisement from an American advertising slogan, condemning both the culture that makes and exports coca cola and the culture that drinks it. The word “coca,’ in South American countries, refers to a number of shrubs, but especially to the E. coca, whose leaves resemble tea. Coca leaves are chewed to impart endurance. Pharmaceutically the dried leaves of the E. coca yield cocaine. By simply exchanging the position of the vowels in “coca” the poet gets “caco” (“shard”). With this most economical method he is able to bring into the poem a most provocative question: What will the archaeologist of the future be able to say about our civilization if the shards we leave are fragments of coca cola bottles? The final, damning word of the poem “cloaca” (“filthy place,” “cesspool”) also takes its letters from “coca cola.”

And Kenny Goldsmith discusses Pignatari’s lean to digital poetics:

After a long evening of several academic papers, presentations and readings, Décio saddled up to the stage and began recalling the history of concrete poetry as it applied to the Noigandres group in São Paulo in the early 1950s. I was stunned. Everything he was saying seemed to predict the mechanics of the internet in so many respects: delivery, content, interface, distribution, multi-media, just to name a few. Suddenly it made sense: like de Kooning’s famous statement: “History doesn’t influence me. I influence it,” it’s taken the web to make us see just how prescient concrete poetics was in predicting its own lively reception half a century later.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, December 3rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.