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   Jacket 32 — April 2007        link Jacket 32 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Marcelo Coelho reviews
Rapid Departures
by Vincent Katz, illustrations by Mario Cafiero

Ateliê Editorial, Poetry and Art. Bilingual, English and Portuguese.

This review is about 3 printed pages long.

Barks, quaresmeiras, and New Year’s Resolutions

Whoever has lived in Vila Madalena knows how terrifying the dogs there are. Maybe because the neighborhood, today occupied by bohemian bars and alternative shops, still has some modest streets, with large yards and linked houses: that’s why many guard dogs have not adapted their suburban habits to the current hopped-up ambience, full of night life, boîtes with security guards and valet service. Let’s remember too that the topography is quite irregular, concentrating the night barkings in inextinguishable puddles of sound.

The fact is that the American poet Vincent Katz (ironically, his name means “cat” in German) decided to dedicate a good hundred verses to the dogs of Vila Madalena, or rather, to “The Dogs of São Paulo” : this is the title of the poem I received together with the volume Rapid Departures (Partidas Rápidas), recently released by Ateliê Editorial. His writing has the fluency of a conversation between friends. The poet begins,

The dogs of São Paulo are freer than the dogs of New York.
They have fewer restraints placed upon them.
The dogs of São Paulo know much more about
the women of São Paulo than you or I.
They have seen, heard, smelled, perhaps even tasted more.
The dogs of São Paulo do not have human names.
This would cause great displeasure to humans of the same name.
The dogs of São Paulo have names like Lua,
which means Moon, or Quincas, the name of the famous
dog from Machado de Assis’ moving novel Quincas Borba,
sometimes called in English The Philosopher and the Dog,
although I think if Machado had wanted to call his book
The Philosopher and the Dog, he would have done so.
If anyone has not read this book, I suggest they do so
without delay.

And on it goes, without economy of words or associations of ideas. I reproduced only the initial verses of the first section of a poem which is divided into three, but you can get an idea of the liberty with which the writing of Vincent Katz goes, unrolling, as if walking at ease, until the moment in which we can intuit with certainty what all this is about; and then the poet, like his subject, will stop wandering around to return to the point of departure. But let’s accompany a little more the wanderings of these verses. The second section of the poem continues,

It is very important to know what one is;
even more important than knowing what one wants to be.
The dogs of São Paulo know what they are.
This is not as simple as it sounds, for dogs
in other places do not always know what they are.
Today, one is not hearing many dogs, for it is raining
hard. It is a summer rain, and dogs, as a rule, are not
fond of rain. The dogs of São Paulo, though, do not mind
the light rain known as garoa. When it is not raining is when
they become really audible. One is accustomed to hearing a dog
barking every few minutes, some far off, some surprisingly

From here, the poet goes localizing himself in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He imagines the conversation of one dog with another: ““I hear you, friend. I too experience anxieties like/the ones you’ve described.” Then, the poem changes its direction, directs itself to the past, and touches delicately on the theme of human friendship.

This is such a perfect time; my parents are both alive,
I’m surrounded by friends, riding in a car through the
night of São Paulo, past the flower stands which stay
open all night on Avenida Doutor Arnaldo, by the
cemetery, where my wife’s grandmother is buried.
One thing about friends: although they may have
differences at times, there is a core solidarity which
understands and moves beyond those differences,
accepting them…

All this may seem to have little to do with dogs,
and particularly the dogs of São Paulo, but this is
not so.

We are in the midst of one of those texts which suddenly take off, and the quotations which I just made already should reproduce the line-spacing of the original, as it is as though the use of the verse were little by little constructing itself, structuring itself in the poem, after its very colloquial beginning. All poetry, after all, must justify its own existence, inventing it in the precise moment of its enunciation: its emotional structure determines its pulse, the amplitude of the meter adopted. Little by little, “The Dogs of São Paulo” creates itself as a poem. But forget about theory. From dogs, we move on to friendship, and this theme arises as a pretext for speaking about something even more essential, the necessity of communication, the gratuitous act, which is writing, or barking.

Translated by Regina Alfarano, the poetry of Katz, who for years has visited Brazil, seeks to revive two lessons: that of the broad, democratic, New Yorker’s universal solidarity of Walt Whitman, and that of the concentrated, ironic, savage purity of the poem “Pau-Brasil” of Oswald de Andrade. See Katz’s poem about the quaresmeira trees of São Paulo.

“There is nothing in the world/more difficult than candor,” declares the poet in the epigraph. And he says, we don’t know precisely to whom: I want to look at you/ with complete candor,/
eyes empty, and let/ the stages sing clearly.”

This beginning reminds one of Oswald de Andrade’s counsel in the Manifesto Pau-Brasil: “to look with free eyes”. Immediately following, the quaresmeiras seem to speak: “The dances give joy/ into our rainy hands./ Our heads don’t know/how to count the flowers/ which begin to spread.”

The poet then refers to his wife: “as she stands with me/ in front of the world/ in a tiny, private, spot,/ which passes instantly/ and never goes out.”

We are all in front of the world. And it is not an exaggerated New Year’s Resolution, I think, to wish for a certain candor in our perception.