back toJacket2

 |  C O N T E N T S  |   H O M E P A G E  | J A C K E T   N U M B E R  


by Alvaro de Campos  
This piece is 2,700 words or about six printed pages long.


FOR SEVERAL MONTHS NOW I had not seen my friend Soares: my marriage to Conchita had ended, and for consolation I had gone back to my researches on informal fallacies, or sought oblivion in peyote. In the evenings I walked much. Then one night, caught in the electrical storms of an unfamiliar neighbourhood, I found myself entering an ill-lit bodega. The hour was late, my coat was drenched, I had long ago become lost. As I shivered over my Strega and a copy of the Pulmana Tiror, I heard the crackling of a familiar voice from the next room: ". . . for there are many more imitations than there are imitators my friends, and this is the impossibility of poetry in our time. That is the hatred it must bear so as to avoid revertant instrumentalism. Consider Australia, where so far advanced have been the predations of Ki- . . ."
That strange Prussian bark I recognised at once: I knew that it was Bernardo, the companion of many adventures pars magna fui, discoursing loudly to a group of young admirers and rising to greet me now, banging his ferric hand against the rosewood inlay of his ebony femur. The months melted away, we were as one again, and quickly fell to private discussion. Bernardo admitted that he was bored: his monograph on the implied argumentum ad baculum in the Ruy Lopez defense had found a ready audience among the thirty or so Grand Masters capable of understanding it, but he had grown tired of his experiments on furan resins, and craved some new challenge. Then pulling from his coat a parchment letter bearing a heavy seal, he began to read 'The Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge desire your honoured presence to commemorate the award of the Nobel Prize to Amartya Sen for Economics: 23rd-25th April 1999'. "My former pupil Sen has prospered," he observed. "What say you - shall we not go over and see how the English conduct themselves without their windmills to guide them? For I long to see my ancient college before the tigers consume us all . . ."


We rapidly agreed and took passage by steamer that night: by daybreak, our trunks were loaded onto a private aircraft and we were speeding towards England. Our flight was dull, but my companion seemed pacified by travel: free of the soil of his native land, his mind appeared to soar, again he was the Soares I had known of old. But on descending from our taxicab outside the massive gates of his old college, he moved with slower pace. Mehr licht, he growled, as we turned towards a darkened room where the smell of corduroy and incense offered some distraction from harsher musings. Seeking refreshment, Bernardo kicked back an oaken door . . . 
A poetry reading was in progress. Inside declaimed the Englishman Harwood, a doddering ninny who once (so he said) had dreamed of being raped by 'natives'. "No wonder," whispered my friend, seizing a bottle of Vorstermilch from a passing curator. "For the English are in love with murder: they cling to their poetry with true disbelief - the more implausible the better. The indigenes here are true retorts - living alembics distilling, in effect, their own selves . . ." The rest of his thoughts were drowned as the room filled with the noise of many, young and old, great and ruined. Some of these were the bearded survivors of more adulterate times, grown sleek and rounded on National Assistance. The wife of the local poet Thomas Raworth attacked a nearby Bösendorfer, until my friend brushed her aside and played a most moving zarzuela, rich with the harmonies of our homeland Pulmana. So heavy did the hearts of the company become with these tender strains that many dispersed at once. Others sought to know more of my strange companion, but he had already slipped into the night.

Lisa Robertson

Lisa Robertson
photo copyright © John Wilkinson, 1999

The next day, though, my friend revived. From behind a panel in his chambers of old he had retrieved the ball of sticky opium which he and the young Sraffa had ingested as Bernardo dictated to the Abruzzian his equations on the cost flow vectors of the stable equilibrium matrix. The drug had made Bernardo reflective: "Here too did I once tell my pupil Sen that he should renounce poetry for jurisprudence. Of course I knew that he would defy me, for he devoted himself instead to The Law! I am proud of him, for he was never so stupid as to be a bad poet, nor so unfortunate as to be a good one."
Breakfast and sabre-practice were quickly accomplished; the morning loomed. "I have determined to learn more," announced my friend "of this 'poetry' that the English so proclaim". And so we entered once again the 1999 Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry, taking some hidden stairs to the lead-lined teahouse where events had already commenced with a cockney Robinson Crusoe, too much in love with easeful death. Then one Andrew Johnson performed, like a macaque in a detergent experiment, with much enjanglement of rusted tropes. "The young Englishman capers well," observed Michael Palmer, the Mount Rushmore of Californian High Art; "but I should prefer not to be there when the joking stops".


"And when does the joking begin with you, my friend?" roared Soares coarsely, running an admiring palm over the pampas of smoothly matted hair on Palmer's chest. I could see that my friend liked the American, who smiled bravely as my Bernardo whispered that he had enjoyed the company of the young Wittgenstein 'most frequently', by which news the colon was plainly moved.
Lisa Robertson from Canada read then, but it was with a heavy heart that I heard her brave words, for she reminded me of my own dear Conchita, a former abbess herself, whose powerful emotions and intellect arouse in me still those feelings of fear and wonderment which I associate with my long-departed mother: truly women are the pelicans of mankind. I turned to my friend, who grew warm. "She is indeed among the greatest of poets to whom this world (which is eternal) is eternally unjust; auto-objectification cannot deliver her, nor can she weave a conscience collective from the wires of her own confusion. She hears an endless roar her poem seeks to deafen, she is the dog that barks all night and the arrow that flies by day. The kennel is her heart, the arrow's target too . . ."

Andrea Brady

Andrea Brady
photo copyright © John Wilkinson, 1999

My friend ceased just as the young Americana Andrea Brady took the stage, then left it some while after. Again he was taken: "She is old before her time," he averred "and I fear the moment when she must be young enough to know better. Tout art est devoilement, but the more she removes, the more she covers herself. She craves love, so that she can be cheated of it - she carves her face from stone, to hide the soft marble inside . . ."

Bob Walker

Bob Walker
photo copyright © John Wilkinson, 1999

I was startled by this and wished for more, but Soares had already leaped to his feet as two Jumping Jacks (Walker and Hawkins) appeared. "Send me no more clowns," he coughed as we bowled through the hortus inclusus below, dispatching samples of the rare Harlow monorchid Ericagriffithus with fatal blows from our swordsticks.
I observed that many of these Englishmen appeared to write much about their flatus and asked was that not abhorrent? "It is abhorrent but it is not unusual," said my friend "for the English are cold to themselves, and therefore need to feel warm. Their tragedy is that they feel the air passing through them: ours is that they expect us all to inhale it".

Ralph Hawkins

Ralph Hawkins
photo copyright © John Wilkinson, 1999


Then (I countered) is this not a land of pretenders, where many think themselves 'outlaws' yet seem so enslaved by the customs they revile? (I thought of their strange national batabob, Hamilton HeaneyHughes, whose name was often mentioned that day).
"It is not strange at all," answered my friend. "For a whore to be fully licensed, we must first establish her total depravity! For many there are who seek employment in the universities only to take from the hand that slaps them the bread at which they snarl."
I observed how strange I found it that in this land many should describe the passions that moved them as though they were images in an old volume of gravurotypes? "It is not an old country, unlike our own Pulmana," said my friend, "and this is its peculiar tranquillity and pathos. Only in Pulmana does the spirit Cannibale gnaw us mutantes, and instead of images of things we have the things themselves, busy and cruel . . ."

Robert Adamson

Robert Adamson, Sydney, 1999
photo copyright © Jenni Mitchell, 1999


We retired for luncheon to the lodge of young Sen, still grinning shyly as he sat near his former mentor. "They should have given the Nobel to you, Bernardo," he piped. "Then I should not have taken it!!", laughed Soares, alluding to his pupil's own theory of income distribution. Putting Sen to bed, we marched skywards again for more canzone, (for our curiosity was unquenched) and discovered Philippe Beck (four legs in the morning), Michael Palmer (two at midday), and Robert Adamson (three at midnight). Of the trio it was Beck that Bernardo preferred, for they had once wrestled against each other in Japan, and Bernardo admitted that he had only won by using a secret manoeuvre whispered to him by Beck's own wife. "Here is a poet who knows what is hatred and what is not," said Soares of his young opponent. "He will go on many journeys, and always return. But will his wife wait for him?" Of Palmer my friend considered, then said: "here is a poet who does not know hatred. He must stay at home more, to learn how to leave it".
Of the Australian who read last and resembled a ruined marquise, Soares was abrupt: "here is a poet whom poetry has taught little. For he is so anxious to be a master that he is still the servant of all. Yet he has little of the energy of the slave, and has not yet learned how to abominate".
I sought more, but my friend was away, clasped in the gruff embrace of his former corporal from the Maquis, the lusty Gascon Michel Deguy. In this company Soares appeared happy, reminiscing how they and 'that arrant scamp' the young Agamben had once at Todtnauberg entangled the laces of Heidegger's skiboots: their mentor's collision with a vigorous young Abies Procera some minutes later inspired the first draft of Zu Seinsfrage with its admonition to all poets "an diesen Ort der Linie vordenken und so die Linie erörtern".
Heidegger and friend

Herr Heidegger irritably disentangles the laces of his skiboots while a laughing Fraulien Arendt looks on, Berchtesgaden, 1932
Illustration © Deutsch Arbeiter Zeitung Illustriet


Deguy believed that it was possible to be the servant of two masters, poetry and philosophy, but Bernardo demurred: "you are either master or poet my friend: you cannot claim droit de seigneur as both, nor make love to your employment". Knowing that Soares was due in Stockholm later that month, Deguy begged Bernardo to speak to the wily ciphers of the Nobel Commissariat, but again Bernardo grew tigerish: "if the company of Alfred Nobel gives either of us one of its baubles, cher ami, it is only because we were both once such good customers of theirs".

Like a modern-day Eurydice, Charles Bernstein emerges from the Underworld, New York, 1997
Photo: John Tranter

At this the Frenchman was thoughtful, and Bernardo reminded him of the lesson of his foe Prigent: that the noise of implosion is not the noise of explosion. "From point to nape and all around, techné becomes morality. What is written is the noise we hear, today and gone, the pathos of antipathos coasting sweetly on its own oil, like our dancer friend Moxalita (here Deguy's eyes misted over). What could be more parenthetical than the pasodobles of mechanical abreaction? Thus the least whining poesy is the most feigning of all: none weeps more closely than the machine. Does not my former pupil Bernstein now constantly mourn the Nature that he himself helps to erase?"
"Can we be saved?"asked Deguy humbly.
Country Crub 
As the company of Frenchmen marshalled en masse for the reading next day, the answer was partly given, for their ranks glowed with the warm rich tones of legolfingweekend English tweeds, not smeared by any ort or merd.
The company of Major Thompson was out in force, its priestly gaze begged for re-endorsement and its prayers were answered not, for into the room roared Christian Prigent, enemy these decades of all that is Nobel and decent in the French soul, indeed the soul itself. My friend was astonished and filled with the most singular admiration: "Why, the man is a born soldier," he gasped, as the borborygms of the Frenchman recalled at once the Noh of old Kyoto and the lusty gurgles of my own dear Conchita as we once climaxed near the Rue de Menghas.
"Does he not hate his mother?"I ventured.
"Of course, as must any master of the easy paradox, who constantly disavows his materia in order to secure his prima. Truly, this is the world's soul."
"Then it is barbarism!" I splattered simply. But Soares moderated: "Here power turns on itself, like a mighty engine, the consequence of confusing poetry with economics - as my Serbian friends now discover".
His words rang as the starveling Tarkos took to the lectern delivering his queries like a thought-experiment none could pass, for the answer was owned by him alone. "And what is the answer?" I begged. "What else?" spat Soares, "For this young fellow poetry is the parental pons asinorum: at one entrance waiting for death stands the living father, whose selfsame sovereign spectre guards the bridge's other end".
"And the remedy?"
"Carpet bombing!" roared Bernardo. Then Andrés Ajens read, but since he was a native of our own dear Pulmana we greeted him as a brother, and led him away for further distraction. (Later my friend borrowed a considerable number of pesos from him and also a small gold watch which had belonged to his grandmother).

Michael Ayres

Michael Ayres
photo copyright © John Wilkinson, 1999

The last reciter was the other Canadian of the weekend, Erin Mouré, whose hoots of sapphic diversivolence appeared strongly to the taste of my Soares, who cautioned, though, that "since her ablatives lacked strategy, her strategies must lurch to the dative. She is having, in effect, a genetically modified cow".
What then did he think of all he had witnessed, my proud friend? For his old college he felt some sadness, observing how its cellar had declined in the years of his absence. "Six roses" he quipped, "only another eighteen to go". (And it is true that many around us seemed ruinaceous and mephitic). Of the poetry we had seen he thought variously, of the proceeding itself much less. "Truly the men who conduct this thing are bad, or must become so with time. They have neither authority nor spontaneity, and so they are in accord with their countrymen, who mistake the one for order, and the other for laughter. The ground must be razed above them, burned from below. Youth must saltate, then be mown down like a squad of pansies . . ."
But by now Cambridge was having its affect and eating it too; each quadlibet echoed another. We muchoed steadily on but was this the end or merely a festival? My friend was not sure, but promised to return, having been offered in the meantime - height restrictions disqualifying the favoured nonhibernian - the chair of Postcolonial America, whatevva hepatica rhapsodica. "By heaven I'll geld 'em all," he laughed. With a rough shake he dismissed the two young males seated on his knee and moved unsteadily towards the door, reminding me curtly that he was recalled to Lima for economic discussions. We took our leave, as from a nearby bookstall my friend availed himself, quickly, decisively, of a single volume, waving aside the cries of the attendant with a command in crude Pulmanese. He should have seemed happy, but as we stepped into the early evening rainmist, I saw that my friend's gaze had begun to turn inward; in the many sided mirror of his mind the audivarium was hearing itself once more, for (as we say in Pulmana) when the machine stops the parcel is returned. And I noticed the chapbook in his pocket, which shone as we breathed for this nearly-last time in the evening air. It was something by Stephen Rodefer.


It should be noted by readers prone to fits of excitability and obsessive thoughts of revenge that the opinions of Senhor de Campos and his companion are not necessarily those of the editor of this magazine.
              - Editor.


J A C K E T  # 8  Contents page 
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog |
 Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice
- Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose  | about Jacket |
This material is copyright © Alvaro de Campos and Jacket magazine 1999
The URL address of this page is