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This article is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

What the Dead Keep
or Trophies of the Sun
Chris Miller
Bruno Tolentino, Brazilian Modernism and the Arrière-Garde

for Fabricio Andrade


In September 1994, a literary controversy broke out in the pages of the Brazilian paper O Estado de São Paulo. On one side was that great guardian of the Brazilian avant-garde tradition, the venerable poet, critic and translator Augusto de Campos. On the other was a convicted drug-smuggler and pathological liar. One might therefore have expected the controversy to be brief indeed. The exchange of insults seems to have given both sides pleasure but I suspect that the status quo was not much altered by the quarrel. Ostensibly at issue was a translation of a poem by Hart Crane, but behind this motive lay discrepant interpretations of Brazilian literary modernism, indeed modernity.

To understand this dispute, we need to know a little about the dramatis personae. The drug-smuggler was the multi-lingual Brazilian poet Bruno Tolentino, who had been deported from the UK at the expiry of his sentence in 1989–90. Tolentino had won the Prêmio Revelaçao de Autor in 1960 for his first volume, Anulação e outros reparos, before leaving Brazil for first Italy, then France and finally the UK. In France, he had published a French volume, Le Vrai Le Vain (1961) with his own parallel translation into Portuguese. The year after this polemic, he won the major Brazilian poetry prize, the Prêmio Jabuti, for his volume As Horas de Katerina. Hart Crane was a particular favourite of his and the ...

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