To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reconfiguring Romanticism (16): Sousandrade’s “Wall Street Inferno,” some lines & a commentary

English translation: Odile Cisneros


(Guesa, having traversed the West Indies, believes himself rid of the Xeques and penetrates the New-York-Stock-Exchange; the Voice, from the wilderness:)

– Orpheus, Dante, Aeneas, to hell
Descended; the Inca shall ascend
= Ogni sp’ranza lasciate,
Che entrate…
– Swedenborg, does fate new worlds portend?


(Smiling Xeques appear disguised as Railroad-managers, Stockjobbers, Pimpbrokers, etc., etc., crying out:)

– Harlem! Erie! Central! Pennsylvania!
= Million! Hundred million!! Billions!! Pelf!!!
– Young is Grant! Jackson,
Vanderbilts, Jay Goulds like elves!


(The Voice, poorly heard amidst the commotion:)

– Fulton’s Folly, Codezo’s Forgery
…Fraud cries the nation’s bedlam
They grasp no odes
Wall Street’s parallel to Chatham…


(Brokers going on:)

– Pygmies, Brown Brothers! Bennett! Stewart!
Rothschild and that Astor with red hair!!
= Giants, slaves
If only nails gave
Out streams of light, if they would end despair!..


(Norris, Attorney; Codezo, inventor; Young, Esq., manager; Atkinsonagent; Armstrong, agent; Rhodes, agent; P. Offman & Voldo, agents; hubbub, mirage; in the middle, Guesa:)

– Two! Three! Five thousand! If you play
Five million, Sir, will you receive
= He won! Hah! Haah!! Haaah!!!
– Hurrah! Ah!…
– They vanished… Were they thieves?..


(J. Miller atop the roofs of the Tammany wigwam unfurling the Garibaldian mantle:)

Bloodthirsties! Sioux! Oh Modocs!
To the White House! Save the Nation,
From the Jews! From the hazardous
Goth’s Exodus!
From immoral conflagration!


with Jeffrey C. Robinson

Someone told me I would only be read 50 years from now. I grew sad. The disillusion of one who wrote 50 years too soon. ([Joaquim de] Sousândrade, from Preface to the first edition of Guesa Errante, as quoted by Augusto de Campos)

The great Brazilian poet Sousândrade, nearly forgotten after his own time, was brought back through the enthusiasm of Haroldo & Augusto de Campos, to become, in Latin American terms at least, the epitome of a late experimental romanticism & a prefigurer of new poetries to come. “In 1877” – thus the Cuban novelist Severo Sarduy in summary – “this contemporary of Baudelaire, who lived in the United States for ten years, wrote what Haroldo de Campos regards as the foundation stone of concretude [concrete poetry]: a long poem entitled O guesa errante [The Wandering Guesa], which culminates in an astonishing sequence – ‘The Wall Street Inferno’ – that might be described as textual marquetry or polyphony, in which layout, neologisms, verbal montage, and sudden changes in tone evoke the newspapers of that period and the hectic world of the stock market. It is a typographical explosion in a pre-Poundian expanding universe.” Or Haroldo de Campos himself, of Sousândrade as part of a Brazilian “tradition of rupture”: “Our poet, the one who made the great Romantic poetry in our language, was Sousândrade. Especially when he wrote O Guesa, he led the models of the time to total disorder and was not understood by his contemporaries. It’s clear that if we didn’t have the standards of modern poetry, we wouldn’t have the standards to evaluate Sousândrade”

In an unfinished sequence of thirteen cantos, then, Sousândrade engages in what Augusto de Campos calls “a trans-American periplum (with interludes in Europe, Africa) from Brazil (Maranhão) to Columbia, Venezuela, Peru … Central America, the Antilles, and to the USA.” At the journey’s center is the Guesa, a legendary figure of the Muisca Indians of Colombia, destined from childhood for ritual immolation. To escape the xeques or priests who would carry out the sacrifice, the Guesa (or Sousândrade speaking for him), makes his own pilgrimage, “to end sacrificed in Wall Street, surrounded by stockbrokers’ cries.” To bring this across, Sousândrade invents & re-invents within a framework of decasyllabics & alternative rhymed lines of four to eight syllables: “montage and collage techniques that include ‘faits divers’ from NY press (THE SUN, THE NEW YORK HERALD), especially political news, quotations from several languages, cacaphonic sounds, neologisms … [that] make the poem incredibly new, a forerunner of EP’s Cantos and of many other modern poets.” (A. de C.)

[Odille Cisneros’s translation from Wall Street Inferno appeared in a lengthier selection in Regis Bonvicino’s Brazilian-based magazine, Sibila. A long excerpt from Robert E. Brown’s alternative version will be included with this commentary in Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, edited by myself & Jeffrey Robinson. Other prviews of poems and commentaries from Volume 3 have appeared in Poems and Poetics on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, July 21, July 29, August 7. August 16, September 7, September 22, October 3, & October 9.]

1 comment:

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