Brazilian Dead Poets Society – Leminski, the haiku master

In planetary terms, writing Portuguese is the same as being silent.”

Following the first article of this series, we will now focus on another Giant in the Brazilian Dead Poets Society, Paulo Leminski.

Paulo Leminski Filho was born in Curitiba, Paraná, in 1944, to a father of Polish descent. He represents another side of Brazilian society, coming from a multicultural background mixing European and Brazilian traditions. Leminski was always known, though, for being a polyglot, he spoke fluently French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Latin and Greek. The last two were due to him studying in a monastery, though the Japanese language and culture were specially close to his heart. This is one of the reasons why Leminski was so active in writing haikus, and partly responsible for bringing this poetic genre into Brazilian literature. His poetry is praised by critics and readers alike, and he is of great influence to younger generations. Leminski’s poems are a good token of modern Brazilian poetry, especially within the concrete poetry movement. His poems are visual, simple and to the point, but without lacking in aesthetic complexity. Paulo Leminski wrote several books, both in poetry and prose, including also biographies and translations into Portuguese of famous and international authors from several languages. He left us quite soon, dying at the early age of 44 of liver cirrhosis, due to a heavy drinking.

You can find his poems translated on the internet, where his popularity is well-spread. If you want to have a taste of Leminski, you will find below a translation of his poem O Assassino era o Escriba, translated by Michael Palmer:

The Assassin Was the Scribe

My professor of syntactical analysis was a sort of

nonexistent subject.

A pleonasm, principal predicate of your life,

common as a paradigm of conjugation.

Between subordinated oration and adverbial

adjunct he had no doubts: always found an

asyndetic way to torture us with an appositive.

He married grammatical rectitude.

Was unhappy.

Was possessive like a pronoun.

And she was bitransitive.

He tried to go to the USA.

No way.

They discovered an indefinite article in his suitcase.

His moustache’s exclamation point declined explicatives,

connectives and passives, forever.

One day I greased him with a direct object through the head.


   (from Caprichos e Relaxos, 1983)—Translated from the Portuguese by Michael Palmer

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