Visuality and Material Expressiveness in Portuguese Experimental Poetry

Rui Torres, Visuality and Material Expressiveness in Portuguese Experimental Poetry

Artigo de Rui Torres sobre a poesia experimental portuguesa. [Resumo. Ligação]

In > Journal of Artists’ Books, Número 32, Columbia College Chicago, Center for Book and Paper Arts, pp. 9-20. Fall 2012. ISSN 1085-1461.

From the Introduction > Literary experimentalism transcends belonging to a specific literary period. Emerging periodically, it is conveyed through expressive practices that focus on the significant materiality of literary semiotic mechanisms. In this essay I will examine the work of a group of Portuguese poets, aligned with the international Concrete poetry movement, who were active in the second half of the twentieth centry and designated their activities as POesia Experimental (PO. EX). The origin of this name comes from two anthologies titled Poesia Experimental published in 1964 and 1966. Even though the history of the Portuguese Experimental Poetry Movement is yet to be written, in recent years the interest as well as the studies dedicated to this subject has increased, mainly abroad, with collective publications and exhibitions, thesis and dissertations, R&D projects and books. It is therefore clear why the PO-EX group and namely Ana Hatherly considers the Movement to be an “ungrateful cause” (1985:15) that drives its poets, mainly between 1960 and 1990, towards assuming a persistent activist and disseminating role on behalf of the Movement’s cause – to which they contributed with their writings, manifestos and public interventions. The activities undertaken at the time now seem remarkably pertinent and relevant considering the present networked society characterized by ephemerality and information flows.

Digital media open up space for recognition of the importance of the materiality of multimedia writing to writing itself. As Ryan observes, the development of electronic textualities has “led to a rediscovery and critical investigation of print and the Codex book” (Ryan, 2001). As such, the historical importance of innovative and experimental poetry (concrete, visual, etc.), which recognized avant-la-lettre the importance of the aesthetic function of language (Block & Torres, 2007; Reis, 2009) becomes relevant to digital literary studies. One must also acknowledge that many of the operations that the printing machine provides can be found in previous poetical practices, from collages and graphic spatialization design to automatic writing and permutation (Reis, 2009; Drucker, 2005), and many scholars have identified systemic similarities between experimental poetics and digital media (Barbosa, 1998; Portela, 2009). Portela (2006) explicitly mentions an “intrinsic connection between concrete poetics as a theory of the medium (i.e., of language, of written language and of poetical forms) and digital poetics as a theory of poetry for the digital medium.”

Portugal may constitute a privileged arena for literary experimentalism, although for the worst reasons, since the underlying purpose of PO.EX is the violence and shock generally characterizing avant-garde movements. For more than forty years until 1974, Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship averse to recognizing these activities, which were regarded as subversive. Yet, after the Portuguese Revolution of April 1974, the dissemination of these works was not immediately allowed by the democracy, as will be shown by Arnaldo Saraiva (1980) regarding the conceptualization of marginal and marginalized literatures. Hence, in Portugal, the response to PO.EX remained muted despite the aforementioned interventions by the group members.

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