Cabral’s Aniki BóbóPosted by Hello

Interesting table of contents over at the New England Review. (Thanks, C. Dale, for the reminder.) I was surprised, among other things, by the inclusion in this issue of some of Joao Cabral de Melo Neto’s poems (translated by Richard Zenith). I haven’t read these translations yet, but I have read the originals. Their inclusion in this Fall Issue therefore is significant to me for a number of reasons. Most importantly, perhaps, is the remembrance of “other” voices from other lands, of poetic echoes from other languages. Cabral, considered one of the most important Portuguese-language poets of the last century, represents the universal poet of “nowhere land”, of in-between styles, challenging norms and masters, be they social, political or poetical.

Though his concerns with technique dating back to the 1950’s in Brazil may now be taken for granted, he nevertheless represents the poet in transition, the searcher of new forms, the questioner of established style.[1] One of the poems appearing in NER, A Few Matadors[2], exemplifies his life-long battle with form and established poetic order. In that poem Cabral relies on the image and styles of several famed bullfighters to represent different ways of struggling with the poetic experience and, hence, life. He finally relies on the matador Manolete[3] to symbolize the boldest, life-on-the-blade’s edge, experience of the poet vs. established form. While the untimely death of the master bullfighter might seem a lacking metaphor for success in contemporary poetry, it nevertheless takes a true and transcendent turn in Cabral’s world—indeed in ours—where death, symbolic or otherwise, is worth its own price when the artist lives and dies according to what he preaches. Worth a read and plenty of exploration.

[1] Cabral, who purposely set out to write “unpoetic” poetry, did not wish to be included in what he defined as “the club of the lyrical ones.” His writing place was the “in-between space” between prose and poetry. See Sara Brandellero’s “In Between Wor[l]ds: the Image of the ‘entre-lugar’ in Joao Cabral de Melo Neto’s Agrestes”, Portuguese Studies, 18 (2002), 215-229. Modern Humanities Research Association, 2002.

[2] Cabral’s concern with poetic form is even exemplified by his choice of title. Alguns toureiros, meaning “A Few Matadors” or “Some Matadors”, depending on the translator’s choice, shows Cabral’s reliance on double meanings and subtlety. He may either be defiantly setting out to define the masters as “very few”, as they must be, or as “some” of many as they can be.

[3] Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez, nick-named “Manolete” (1917 – 1947), was killed by the bull “Islero” when he committed a technical mistake: he executed the kill too slow and Islero took his life. No surprise that Cabral thus chose Manolete; a master known for his austere, essential, dry and brave style, but nevertheless a man subject to the frailties of human error.