Laudáció / Augusto de Campos
Presentation Speech given by Marjorie Perloff
Member of the International Jury
Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry Foundation
Pécs, Hungary,
September 23, 2017
My dear Augusto de Campos:
All of us our proud that the winner of the 2017 Janus Pannonius Grand Prize is a poet who has literally changed the face of poetry in our time. As the father of the Brazilian Concrete Movement, you understood, in the early 1950s, that in the wake of the two terrible World Wars (1914-45), your native Brazil was poised for the recovery of the avant-garde of the early century. In your own words:
We had had two great wars that marginalized, put aside for many, many years the things that interested us. You see, the music of Webern, Schoenberg and Alban Berg, for example, was not played because it was condemned both in Germany and in Russia, the two dictatorships. You could say that all experimental poetry, all experimental art, was in a certain sense marginalized. Only in the fifties began the rediscovery of Mallarmé, the rediscovery of Pound.
It was you, Augusto, then a young man in your early twenties, who recognized that the work of the great Brazilian Modernists Oswald de Andrade, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and the amazing Sousândre, whose Whitmanian epic, The Inferno of Wall Street (1877), you and your brother Haroldo had rediscovered, could be placed in productive dialogue with the Mallarmé of Un Coup de dés, the James Joyce of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, and especially the Ezra Pound of the Cantos, so as to give birth to a new material poetry foregrounding the signifier rather than, as was the case in the conventional, often confessional poetry of the so-called “Generation of 1945,” the signified, subject matter, theme.

The term Concrete Poetry is somewhat misleading: from your perspective, what was really at stake was not just concretion—that is to say particularity, precision of imagery, materiality—but what James Joyce called the verbivocovisual. In the New Poetry, language was to be considered, not as a conduit to some meaning above and beyond its confines, but as itself constitutive of complex meanings. This meant that graphic space and sound structure would be just as important as the denotation of the words themselves; concrete poetry carried to its logical extreme the poetic notion, made clear by the great Russian Formalist Roman Jakobson, that whereas in ordinary language use, there is no relationship between, say, fig and figment, poetry is precisely that discourse where the relationship between the two matters. Indeed, in poetry, any phonological or visual coincidence is felt to mean semantic kinship. Not what is related but the relationship itself is what counts.

In your first major collection Poetamenos (Poetminus) of1953, you put these principles to work, first using different colors to heighten particular semantic threads and verbal echoes. Paranomasia (pun) and parataxis (coordination) rather than hypotaxis (subordination) are central, as are ellipsis and asyntactical or parasyntactical writing—what John Cage called “the demilitarization of language.” In this poetry, every word, indeed every morpheme and letter counts. The aim was to recover and carry further the “language of rupture” of the early 20th century avant-gardes like Futurism and Dada, both of which, of course, prominent in Hungarian art.

But what is most remarkable is how your poetry evolved in subsequent decades so as to confront the new technologies of the twentieth century. By 1963, you had made a marvelous “ticker-tape” list poem, playing on the single word city in three languages: cidade/city/cite—a text that was to become a superb and distinctive digital composition. The Popcretos of 1964-66, also called tableau-poems, followed and soon, in Poemmobiles, you were making three-dimensional movable poem-objects. By the early 90s, you owned your own Mac Computer and began to transform such earlier works as cidade/city/cité into digital poems and videos. The way was prepared for intermedia works like the recording of Pulsar, sung by the great Tropicalismo star Caetano Veloso, and the sound-visual poems SOS and Moby, both performed with Augusto’s son Cid Campos. Your recent Pompeia exhibition (2016), tracing your work from the early brief, elliptical poems on the page to the large electronic displays and laser holograms of the present, has given the public a wonderful preview of what poetry can be in the 21st century.

Finally, a word about your translations. From the 1960s on, you have produced some of the most beautiful books, now collectors’ items, devising what you and Haroldo have called transcreations, artist’s books lavishly illustrated, devoted to the great modernists from Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, to Rimbaud and Valéry, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, and Ezra Pound, forward to John Cage but also backward in time to the Provençal troubadours and the great metaphysical poet John Donne. In these transcreations, you have created essentially new poetic texts, drawing out specific threads and motifs in the work of individual poets so as to align these poets with his own verbal inventions. As such, you are a true globalist. As Haroldo put it, “We had in the past the pilot plan for concrete poetry. We were programming the future.”

And now that future is with us!

Dear Augusto de Campos, please accept the Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry from Géza Szőcs, President of the Hungarian PEN Club.
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