now, you will say, to hear galáxias:
I began the galáxias in 1963, and I finished them in 1976. Not counting the episodic publications in the review Invenção, numbers 4 (1964) and 5 (1966-67); the translation of a few fragments into German (1966), French (1970), Spanish (1978), and English (1976, 1981), and the first gathering of galactic texts in Chess of Stars (Xadrez de estrelas, São Paulo, Perspectiva, 1976), only in 1984 was I able to see my project materialize in functionally adequate conditions thanks to Frederico Nasser's publishing house, Editora Ex Libris. This publication was in a large format, had reading visibility, the verso pages were blank, functioning as an intermittent silence or pause and completing the programmatic total of 100 pages.
An audiovidoetext, videotextogram, the galáxias situate themselves on the border between prose and poetry. In this kaleidoscopic book there's an epic, narrative gesture—mini-stories that articulate and dissolve themselves like the "suspense" of a detective novel (Anatol Rosenfeld); but the image remains, the vision or calling of the epiphanic. In that sense, it is the poetic pole that ends up prevailing in the project, and the result is 50 "galactic cantos," with a total of more than 2000 verses (close to 40 per page). This permutational book has, as its semantic backbone, a recurrent yet always varied theme all along: travel as a book and the book as travel (despite the fact that—for that very reason—it is not exactly a "travel book"…). Two formants, in italics, the initial one (beginning-end: "and here I begin") and the final one (end-beginning-new beginning), encompass the game of moveable pages, interchangeable in their reading, where each isolated fragment introduces its "difference," but contains, in itself, like a watermark, the image of the entire book. which can be seen as from Alephic vantagepoint.
The oralization of the galáxias was always implicit in my project. […] As it will be seen (as it will be heard), this is a book to be read aloud, proposing a rhythm and a prosody, whose "obscure" passages become transparent to reading and whose words, when pronounced, can acquire a talismanic force, incite and seduce like mantras. Not accidentally I invited the poet and musician Alberto Marsicano to accompany me on his sitar while I read the two formants (highlighted in this way): the mobility of Indian ragas, where what is random is controlled by structures of repetition, rhymes with my score-text. Furthermore, only a few referential clues are sufficient to illuminate the galactic journey. With regard to the words and phrases in other languages—always carrying a mantric, 'transmental,' value even when not always apprehensible on a semantic level—those words and phrases are usually translated or glossed in the context, in this way flowing along and into the rhythm of the whole
In Memoriam Haroldo de Campos (1929-2003)
I met Haroldo de Campos the summer of 2001, during a research trip to São Paulo, Brazil. At that point, I had already become fairly well acquainted with his oeuvre, through my work co-editing Novas, the first volume of his writings in English (forthcoming from Northwestern University Press, August 2007). Beyond the English-speaking world, his work has been translated into several languages and earned him—in addition to numerous honorary degrees and prizes—an international reputation as one of the most original voices of the postwar Latin American avant-garde. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss the progress of this volume of his selected writings, but it afforded me a unique opportunity to meet a living legend—a poet, critic, essayist and translator who, along with his brother Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari, single-handedly changed the course of Brazilian poetry in the early 1950s.
This triumvirate of poets, barely in their twenties at the time, became known by the name of their experimental journal Noigandres –after a Provençal literary riddle in one of Ezra Pound's cantos—where they published a series of bold manifestos and poems declaring, among other things, the closure of the historical cycle of verse. What ensued became known as "concrete poetry," an experimental lyric that focused on the material qualities of language, fusing sound, typography, physical layout, and imagery. Similar experiments were being carried out in Europe, North America, and Japan, and, in this way, Noigandres joined Brazilian lyric to the international avant-garde, and eventually also to popular music in Brazil, influencing performers and composers such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
With time, Haroldo de Campos's work evolved away from the strictures of concrete poetry, embracing instead hybrid and baroque forms best exemplified in what is arguably his masterpiece, Galáxias. This series of fragments of "concrete prose," to quote Marjorie Perloff's characterization of this work, like an ever-expanding yet stable galaxy, spirals out of travel and biographical annotations into the log of a cosmic/poetic journey across disparate geographies, past and present. Verbally, it traverses various styles, registers, and languages, attesting to another of de Campos's life-long passions: literary translation or "transcreation," as he preferred to call his approach this difficult art. Following the "make it new" motto of his mentor Pound, de Campos brilliantly translated into Portuguese –sometimes for the first time—texts that ranged from Homer, Dante, and Provençal poetry to the Book of Job, Japanese Noh plays, and classical Chinese poetry as well as modernist authors such as Joyce, ee cummings, and Pound himself. His translation activities often fed seamlessly into his creative and critical work, creating an indistinguishable unity.
The immensity of de Campos's literary universe was physically revealed to me upon entering his "library-house" in the Perdizes neighborhood of São Paulo. We sat in the subdued light of his living room, a kind of literary and artistic shrine impervious to the hustle and bustle of the city. The walls, needless to say, were lined with books, artwork—graphic renditions of concrete poetry as well as Chinese calligraphy—and a variety of decorative objects. For about 3 hours straight, he talked about poetry and some of his current projects –translating the Iliad; studying Nahuatl in order to translate Aztec poetry; compiling a huge polyglot anthology of Brazilian poetry and prose that would include texts in Guaraní and Yoruba. He also reminisced about hundreds of people –artists, writers, musicians—he'd encountered in his long career, quoted the first Brazilian translator of Homer, and so on. Our conversation was gently interrupted by his life-long companion and muse, Carmen, who would come in to remind de Campos it was time for his medication or his physical therapy.
Despite various ailments that afflicted him in his later years, de Campos led an extremely productive life, publishing over thirty volumes of poetry, criticism, and translation. His death in August of 2003 was a regrettable loss to the international community of experimental poetry, translation, and criticism, and he will be remembered as a pivotal figure of the Brazilian and world literary vanguard. The galaxy of de Campos's life and work will continue to expand, I am sure, beyond his earthly days for, as Borges once said of the seventeenth-century Spanish writer Francisco de Quevedo, he was not a merely writer but, rather, a vast literature.
This page showcases a sample of the full translation into English of Haroldo de Campos's Galáxias authored by Odile Cisneros with Suzanne Jill Levine. The complete project encompassing 50 fragments (including three fragments previously translated by Suzanne Jill Levine after Jon Tolman's basic version; Norman Potter and Christopher Middleton; and Charles Perrone) will be available in book version in the near future. More details soon.
The translators wish to acknowledge the following people and institutions for their generosity in making this project possible: