- The Verbivocovisual RevolutionAnti-Literature, Affect, Politics, and World Literature in Augusto de Campos
Augusto de Campos's critical fortune has been burdened by a deep-seated uncertainty: is his poetry really poetry or does it constitute a sui generis antipoetry? Moreover, does his project ultimately articulate novel modalities of affect, perception, and language that contest Brazilian antidemocracy and what Carlo Galli has called "technology's planetary domination" during the global electronic boom (2010, 112)? In short, can we reconceive Campos's canny drive to stage the contemporary in his prototypes as a means to unsettle North/South world literature paradigms and contribute to global discourse? At a mega retrospective in 2016, Campos underscored fundamental aspects of his endeavor:
more than concrete poetry, the work, in its entirety, endeavors to be experimental, a poetry of invention, which comes about through establishing a [End Page 147] permanent dialogue between the verbal and the nonverbal. a dialogue that seeks interdisciplinary and even interactive communication. a poetry of "lessness" ( menos), as my color poems were called in the 1950s, from "ex," to "un" (des ) and "not" (não), but also a poetry of "between" (entre ), as articulated in one of my mobilepoems. and, as I already made clear on another occasion, a poetry that "longs for the future." nonetheless, above all, poetry.(2016c, 5)
Brandishing the banner of refusal (recusa) since the 1950s and inspired by the Poundian imperative to make it new, Campos has deployed a multiplicity of media to probe the verbal, vocal, and visual dimensions of the poetic word, from video and digital clip-poems, to pop, sculpture, painting, and avant-garde music. In effect, Campos's variform work is anti-literary because it produces, with each new composition, heterogeneous poetic processes that defy what is conventionally meant by poetry (Shellhorse 2017, 166). Yet, as has been clearly shown, Campos is often reduced to concretism, an influential, albeit controversial movement that declared the end of the era of verse and which induced, not unsurprisingly, a legion of adversaries in its wake (Aguilar 2015; Campos 1989). Moreover, due to the protean character of his oeuvre and his language being Portuguese, Campos's achievement in the English-speaking world remains misunderstood. Charles A. Perrone insightfully contends that the major innovations in technique and technology that Campos bestows to poetry know no counterpart in the anglophone tradition (Perrone 2007, 237). 1
Even so, Campos's reception has witnessed a formidable rise. Campos is the newly minted winner of three distinctions: the Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry (2017, Hungarian PEN Club), the Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía Pablo Neruda (2015), and the Brazilian Grã-Cruz da Ordem do Mérito Cultural (2016). What is more, Campos has long been praised for his translations, twice capturing the most distinguished national literary prize, the Prêmio Jabuti (1979, 1993). In addition to the numerous anthologies displaying his work, recent comprehensive translations in German (2019), Hungarian (2017), Spanish (2019, 2014, 1994), and French (2011) exemplify the upswing of Campos's trajectory. We should add to these achievements the wave of exhibits and scholarly panels, dissertations, articles, and homages dedicated to [End Page 148] Campos's 71 years of production. 2 Among the hundred-plus venues that have displayed Campos's work worldwide in museums, festivals, films, concert performances, and cityscape exhibits—video, laser, and sky poetry projections as well as object-poem installations—we underscore the retrospective "REVER" and its publicized show, "SOMPOESIA" with musicians Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Arnaldo Antunes, Péricles Cavalcanti, Passoca, and Cid Campos (SESC Pompeia, 2016); "Poetry Is Risk," concert with Cid Campos (Budapest 2017, New York 2012, and Brussels 2011); and exhibits in Rüsselsheim am Main (2019–20), São Paulo (2019, 2017), Los Angeles (2017), Buenos Aires (2014), Brussels (2011), and Rio de Janeiro (2011).
From the 1950s to the present, Campos's project is organized around a fidelity to concretism, the afterlives of the avant-garde, and forms of general rupture. Poems are experimental apparatuses, or rather, visual word-things in space-time, that reflect and intensify the word's material verbal, vocal, and visual dimensions. This is the basis of...