Poesília de Braxília: Nicolas Behr and the Reinvention of Brasiliensidade

By Steven F. Butterman

Brazilian Studies Association 2010

Brasília, DF

Panel: “Fios e Planos Contemporâneos: Imaginação Urbana Expansiva”

Coordinator: Charles A. Perrone

Friday, July 23, 2010

9:00 – 10:45 a.m. (5.8)

If, as Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda has argued in her seminal study 26 Poetas Hoje,

“poesia marginal” is defined, in large part, by the proximity between poetry and life experiences as well as the abundance of colloquialism and the unpretentious language of the “povão,” my visit to Brasília has already been at least two-thirds representative. I decided to spend these days invading the home and the hospitality of Nicolas Behr and family, who I am delighted to say is here with us today. This so as to anthropophagically absorb as much vitality as possible of the poet and his verses. The only missing characteristic is the obsessive abuse of “metáforas de grande abstração,” as Heloísa posits, mas vamos preenchendo essa lacuna já com esta minha comunicação.

My interest in the vast corpus of Behr’s poetic production began some years ago, with an abundant feast or a Brazilian-style breakfast, devouring the hilariously satiric pages of the 1977 bestseller Iogurte com Farinha, which, while produced in mimeógrafo form, sold more than

8,000 copies. Behr has sustained this sometimes ludic, often poignant, and always parodic banquet over the course of more than 30 volumes, arriving at a nutritious and equally abundant dessert filled with citric and acidic brasilidade: Laranja seleta: Poesia escolhida (1977-2007) and O Bagaço da Laranja: pra ler com os dentes e mastigar bem (1977-2007), published last year. The difference in the graphic design of the covers is clear evidence of Behr´s increased disillusionment with his beloved city.

As a self-confessed non-Brazilianist who denies both alternatives of the “s” and the “z” in the title and prefers to identify with the noun “brasilófilo,” and as one who has studied and published extensively on the (rather ironically) now canonical” of the poetas marginais, such as

Glauco Mattoso, Leila Míccolis, and Roberto Piva, among others, I wanted to add a Behr to my plate to please my palate. Part of my intention is to further my academic “mission,” if you will, to show how poesia marginal in Brazil has managed to subvert “mainstream” “poesia culta” as

Almeida Pinto designates the term in his 2002 study Poesia de Brasília: duas tendências, but also to work to incorporate within the canon poetas marginais marginalized—ironically--from the excellent but highly Rio-centric criticism of Hollanda and Carlos Alberto Messeder Pereira in the early 1980s. My specific interest in Nicolas Behr is fueled by an aesthetic and philosophical preoccupation of a number of irreconcilable contradictions that I have found in the poet’s verses, only one or two of which I will have time to discuss in my presentation today.

If, as the sparse criticism of Behr’s work suggests, there is an overwhelming utilization of intertextuality in Behr’s verses, what makes his poetic universe unique (Since postmodernism, I will of course not dare to use terms like “original” or “authentic.”). In his poetry, nominated for the prestigious Prêmio Jabuti and Portugal Telecom, Behr makes frequent allusions to Carlos

Drummond de Andrade, but the careful reader will also find traces of the work of Castro Alves, Caetano Veloso, Torquato Neto, Mário de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Glauco Mattoso, Adélia Prado, among many others, as Wilberth Salgueiro points out in “A intertextualidade como engenho: O Brasil de Drummond na braxília de Nicolas Behr.” In fact, Glauco Mattoso furnishes us with a way to begin to answer this question with his tongue-in-cheek conceptualization of “plágio inteligente,” in one of his early and brilliant manifestos, The

“Manifestivo Vanguardada or the IV Manifesto da Vanguarda,” whereby the poet reserves the right (and, in fact, shoulders the responsibility) of first digesting and then, in a rather ludic, brincalhão spirit we may simultaneously call “tough love,” critically reflects on influences within the canon of Brazilian literature, even and perhaps especially if this canon finds itself in a cannon

(in the double “n” sense of the word) ready to spit transgressive fire onto the “poesia culta” with which it constantly contends and attempts to engage. While I do not have sufficient time to elaborate here on Mattoso’s conception of “plagio inteligente,” suffice it to say for now that the poet uses pastiche, parody, and bricolage to engage with his poetic antecedents much like

Gregorio de Mattos was said to have “plagiarized” Baroque poets like Quevedo, but with the noblest of intentions, to pay tribute to his verses. The adjective “inteligente” comes into play when we observe the poet reworking the original contributions with what I would like to call a

“creative mimicry” process, in which such an imitation is never a copy of the original text but rather a postmodern reworking and consequent renovation of the verses the poet borrows.

Put in another way, how does the reader cope with the fact that, in Behr, we are witnessing the production of a poet who reaches such a level of despair and consequent indignation when he returns to Drummond’s “pedra no meio do caminho” only to find that, in the case of his beloved Brasília, this pedrinha has become macunaimically transformed into a

prédio and the “caminho” has become a super-quadra? For me, the problem can be summarized as follows: How does one manage to convincingly and effectively “poetar” (without necessarily lapsing back into the elitist, exclusivist concretismo or its variants, which would, I think, be totally against Behr´s poetic principles?). How to describe the shapes, the signs, the streets, the sights of an impersonal, exclusive, dry, OCD city whose super-quadras are essentially identical, contradicting the “normal” cityscapes of an urban space like Sampa, with its vast multitude of neighborhoods, its disorganized chaos and unruly crowds? This pedra transformada em prédio, this caminho sem calçada transformado em quadra is the “grande abstração” that metaphorizes how I view the most recent poetry of Nicolas Behr dedicated to the invention of his new


How are we to interpret the neologism “braxília”? The new imaginary space that the poet creates maintains the “X” that represents the original cross over which the joining of the two axes was projected. This gesture does not destroy but instead preserves the permanence of the space known as “Brasília” while hoping to rebuild upon it. Indeed, we may also say that “X” marks the spot. Brasília is Ground Zero for the construction of a new utopia that potentially represents all of Brazil, one which would consist of a truly communitarian space where there is no separation between the citizens who inhabit its boundaries. This idealistic social democratization of a common locus to be fully occupied by all is the primary dream on which the new “braxília” with a lower-case “b” is founded. The transformation of the cross to the X may also be a reference to subversion of religious hegemony of Christianism and other potentially repressive institutions, much like Cacá Diegues’ “Quilombo,” where the transformation of the cross to the X becomes an open act of resistance to hegemonic oppression of any kind.

Interestingly, the trajectory of contemporary Brazilian poetry, whereby Ferreira Gullar’s reinscription of the subjectivity of the “eu” in what would later be called neo-concretismo, parallels Behr’s own process. As Furiati writes: “Ao tratar de maneira informal os espaços

‘monumentais’ os versos abrem lugar para a reinclusão (no plano de poesia) do sujeito ao projeto urbanístico da cidade de Brasília” (21). This renovated imaginary space represents both a fertile literary workshop where the creative process becomes the flourishing flora and fauna of artistic expression. However, it also promotes the construction of a new Brasília, decrying a present Brasília that never truly existed in reality yet lived in theory in the books and the essays and the blueprints of Juscelino Kubitschek, Lúcio Costa, and Oscar Niemeyer. In other words, I see “braxilia” as the ludic yet socio-politically charged utopian dream of a dream that never came to be. This alternative space emerges from a poetically re (constructed) underground city which, much like the anti-traditional tradition of Brazilian literature of transgression since colonial times, mixes utopian ufanismo with equal doses of irreverent sociopolitical critique and denunciation. The creative process of Behr’s poetry, as we will see in an excerpt of a video containing a brief interview with the poet at the end of this presentation, is fueled by an obsessive investment in undoing the Plano-Piloto and reinscribing the urban landscapes with subversive potential for social change. Hope for the future, however, becomes increasingly lost in disillusionment about the present urban reality that excludes the brasiliense who is not a

“funcionário público” from access to the (oops) “public” sector and promotes further socioeconomic stratification and alienation of its citizens. The parallel imaginary universe of

“braxilia” Behr invents appropriates and anthrophagizes JK’s Porque Construí Brasília (Behr’s

Porque Construí braxília, written in lower-case “b”). Similarly, braxília revisitada is meant to

satirize Lúcio Costa’s “Brasília revisitada,” which he published upon his return to the city in


In her excellent thesis defended three years ago here in town at the UniB, Gilda Maria Queiroz Furiati convincingly divides Behr’s poetry into three distinct phases: The first phase includes 19 mimeographed books, produced from 1977, three years after Behr moved to the D.F. from Cuiabá, until 1980, a period which Furiati designates as the “imagem projetada do espaço de Brasília.” In this initial phase, the poetic voice sings lyrically of his love and enchantment for Brasília while simultaneously critiquing, in Oswaldian poema-piada fashion, the dehumanization brought about by the implementation of Lúcio Costa’s Plano Piloto de Brasília. The second phase of Behr’s poetic production, and the phase which interests me most in my current research, begins 13 years later with the 1993 publication of Porque construí braxília, a collection of 31 poems, 13 of which are dedicated to the D.F. This phase, which

Furiati identifies as “Tempo social, história e utopia da cidade” constitutes a five-year trajectory invested in transforming the cement of urban reality into the creation of a utopian dream to compensate for the disjuncture between official discourse of the intentions of the planned city and the depth of alienation and corruption which typifies daily reality after its concretization. Behr produces five books during this period. Furiati rightly designates the third phase as “Crítica e desconstrução do discurso mítico,” running from 2001 to 2004 (but, I would amend, to the present day with Behr’s two most recently-published volumes, to which I alluded earlier). In this most recent phase of profound yet somehow still playful disillusionment, Behr’s work is influenced by the bleak visions of sociologists and anthropologists like Luiz Sérgio Duarte da Silva, Brasilmar Ferreira Nunes and even the observations made by Clarice Lispector about Brasília, published in her “Crônicas de Brasília, 1925 – 1977” in her text Para Não Esquecer.

Furiati traces the evolution of the poet’s disillusionment quite well, when she points out that the sensual verses attributed to a city he once loved metaphorized by a “suzana eixosa,” a poem we will hear in just a few minutes, to a city “sem seios / sem desejos” in the latter part of Behr’s trajectory, when the embittered and indignant poetic voice asks a number of not-so-rhetorical questions, always in lower-case letters:

quando será inaugurada em mim esta cidade?

as mudanças no plano piloto

as mudanças em mim?

bicos de seios

apontam a direção

do monumento na

cidade plana

sem seios

sem desejos

Returning now to the question of balancing intertextuality with unique poetic production,

I find it quite fascinating how literary critics to date have attempted to squeeze Behr’s work into a framework that not only finds its roots—but rather the entirety of its identity—in the contributions of Brazilian modernist poets. Early in his article, “As cidades de Nicolas Behr,”

Francisco Kaq writes: “Antes, é claro, havia Oswald. Se o retorno ao coloquial e à dessolenização do poético praticados pela primeira geração modernista era uma bandeira (no pun intended) hasteada por vários poetas marginais…parece-nos que Nicolas foi o mais efetivamente oswaldiano.” The specific characteristics of shared affinities between Oswald and Nicolas would include colloquial, synthetic verses, the notion of “ready-made” poetry (a la Décio Pignatari), the use of parody, the abuse of appropriation, and, how Kac interestingly defines the mechanism of intertextuality in Behr’s poetry: “A recontextualização e transformação de lugares comuns e de outros textos.” At a later point in Kaq’s brief but contradictory analysis, the critic states that “Nicolas cita e se apopria mais de Drummond que de Oswald—sua trajetória se inicia em algum ponto entre esses dois campos de força.” And what of Mário de Andrade’s Pauliceia Desvairada, which is nowhere to be found in Kaq’s essay? And of Leminski? As if to throw his pen up in the air and to proclaim, “Olha, não tem como enquadrar o cara,” Kaq ultimately concedes the unique qualities of Behr’s poetic universe, failing to completely conceive this corpus as either (or exclusively) drummondiano or oswaldiano in derivation or inspiration, writing: “A singularidade poética de Nicolas Behr reside, enfim, em seu modo de expor e explorar o esvaziamento subjetivo, em uma situação inédita.” Wilberth Salgueiro asks the unanswered question, “Por que tantos poemas de Drummond (exatamente ele, Drummond) são tomados, vampirizados por Nicolas Behr?” Quadros e quadras.

As Furiati points out, the “brand,” if you will, of intertextuality that appears in Behr’s works is one that does not acknowledge his own anthropophagy since it does not pause to give credit to works cited or subverted that appear in his pages. This technique, also reminiscent of Glauco Mattoso’s “plágio inteligente,” may be the only avenue to contest authoritative (and authoritarian) discourses about the city of Brasília, for the “procedimento de empréstimo do texto

alheio,” as Furiati conceives it, is, in Behr, a veritable banquet of ecological recycling, mixing spoken words with written texts that Behr has researched to uncover official discourses of the imaginary of “Brasília” as it was theoretically conceived by its founders. Furiati quite convincingly writes: “No caso de Nicolas Behr, a suposição é de que o uso de paródias, transcrições e paráfrases de outros textos funciona como uma espécie de bricolagem cujo objetivo é a desconstrução de textos que se tornaram inquestionáveis e serviram para criar um ideário mítico da cidade. No caso [do poeta], a marca da apropriação serve como uma reinvenção poética do cotidiano.” (17). Ultimately, then, “braxília” subverts the artificiality of the official discourse of the city and yearns to uncover, recover and ultimately rediscover “o cotidiano perdido no projeto monumental.” (21). Monuments, then, are treated with such humor and informality to enable the subject to “ficar à vontade” to return to enjoy the space from where he has been excluded. The lack of pedestrian space and the division of the city into two entities—the “plano piloto” (with its “tecnocracia”) and the “cidades satellites” (or the periphery) becomes the primary spatial target of Behr’s denunciation.

Ironically and quite effectively, then, loaded terms of Brazilian bureaucracy and even

“legalês” and “juridiquês” return in Behr’s poetry as colloquial expressions of everyday existence. Some of the most common words in his most recent work include “protocolo,” “carimbo,” “monumento,” “palácio,” “agenda,” and “crachá.” But much like Glauco Mattoso has used and abused the classical “culto” Camonian sonnet form and structure as an edifice to house themes of homoeroticism, fetishism, and sadomasochism, Behr has managed to subvert bureaucratic processes by disempowering the terms and reducing them to the (quite unfortunate) everyday reach of the brasiliense, and by extension, the Brazilian citizen, thus symbolically subverting and repositioning the power from the palácio to the people.

I will not take precious time to cite the vast abundance of poems which demonstrate this ludic and critical process, for it is my understanding that Nicolas Behr is scheduled to perform a reading of his work, along with other Brasiliense poets, immediately following this panel, at 11:15 (Session 6.8, na Quadra WSZ…just kidding)… Instead, I would like to take the few minutes remaining to share with you a brief documentary excerpt from the “Minuto de Cultura” series, a piece produced by the Espaço Cultural Zumbi dos Palmares in conjunction with SESC-DF) and generously provided by Nicolas Behr…