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Brazil: Farewell to a Cursed Poet

 Brazil: Farewell to a Cursed Poet

Although shunned for
a time by publishers due to her erotic
books, writer Hilda Hilst’s talent was always praised by the
Brazilian intelligentsia. She was labeled pornographic, provocateuse
and obscene by her critics, but this didn’t prevent her from
receiving some of Brazil’s most important literary prizes.
by: Elma
Lia Nascimento

Modest she never was. "My literary work? I consider it a work of a genius,"
she told once an interviewer. Hilda Hilst, the Brazilian writer, who died
this February 4, at age 73, at her ranch in Campinas, state of São
Paulo, wrote 41 books most of them of poetry and was known for her irreverence.
Pornographic, cursed, provocateuse, obscene were some of the labels she was
tagged with during her literary career.

Hilst had broken a leg
after falling in her ranch and had been taken to Unicamp’s Hospital Universitário
da Unicamp, in Campinas, January 2. There were hospital complication though
and she died after a 35-day battle with infection and multiple organ failure.
She was buried the same day of her death at the Cemitério das Aléias,
also in Campinas.

She was born April 1930
in the small paulista (from São Paulo) city of Jaú. Her
father was the farmer and poet Apolônio de Almeida Prado and her mother
was Bedecilda Vaz Cardoso. When her parents separated, she went to live with
the mother in the coastal city of Santos. Starting in 1937 she studied for
eight years in a boarding school in São Paulo. She would marry sculptor
Dante Casarini in 1968.

Hilst received a Law degree
from USP (University of São Paulo) in 1952, but she would become famous
for her writings in poetry, fiction and drama. Among
her best-known works we find Com os meus olhos de cão (With
My Dog’s Eyes), A obscena senhora D (The Obscene Mrs. D) and Júbilo,
memória, noviciado da paixão (Jubilation, Memory, Passion’s
Novitiate). She
was 20 when Presságios, her first poetry book was published.
Her last book, Estar Sendo Ter sido , was published in 1997.

Hilda’s site in the Internet
http://www.hildahilst.cjb.net
– shows a picture of the poet still young giving the finger, with a broad
smile. The place contains poems and assorted text in several languages including
German, French, Italian and English all languages in which her work was published.
"My main charm," she said once, "was always to have been free.
To live and to write."

The poet was living by
herself—with dozens of cats and dogs—at her Casa do Sol (Sun House)
ranch in Campinas. Her Casa do Sol was always open to her friends and she
was productive there, writing until the year 2000. In 2001, Globo Editora
started republishing her complete work. Eleven books have already been republished.

In one of her rare interviews,
in 2002, to reporter Luciana Hidalgo, from Rio’s daily O Globo, she
talked about her decision to stop writing: "I did it because I have said
everything I had to say. I don’t feel like writing anymore, in fact I have
been writing very little. Weeks go by and I don’t write more than a single
line."

In 1997, Com os meus
olhos de cão and A obscena senhora D were published in France
by Gallimard with translation by famous Maryvonne Lapouge, the same one who
translated into French Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas
(translated into English as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands).

Although shunned for a
time by publishers due to her erotic books, Hilst’s talent was always praised
by the Brazilian intelligentsia. She received some of Brazil’s most important
literary prizes including the Jabuti, the Moinho Santista and the Grande Prêmio
da Associação Paulista dos Críticos de Arte.

Hilda’s editor and Unicamp’s
Literary Theory professor Alcir Pécora had this to say about the writer:
"Hers is one of the most meaningful works produced in Brazil between
the 70s and the 90s. She reached a rare degree of excellence in the several
genera she wrote, a vast production that still has to be read since her work
was edited in an artisanal way, with small printings. Only after Globo began
publishing her work people started to read her. My expectation is that all
her work will be eventually well known."

Poet Mário Chamie
also talked about the loss: "Hilda Hilst was a liberated and brave writer
who made of loneliness the rich source for her singular literary work. She
leaves us with a pulsating prose together with her visceral beautiful poetry."

For writer Ignácio
de Loyola Brandão, "Hilda is one of the most important Brazilian
writers—and I’m talking writer of the caliber of Clarice Lispector, without
demerit for Guimarães Rosa. She was wronged a lot. Hilda possessed
a unique style, but never was recognized by the public at large. One of her
dreams was to be read by many, to sell lots of books, to get into a best-selling
list as she used to tell Lygia Fagundes Telles. She died in solitude and misunderstood."

Journalist and writer
Álvaro Alves de Faria used to be a good friend of the poet: "Hilda
was a magic woman and way ahead of her time. I hope Brazil will pay what it
owes her. I visited her recently and while we had a glass of Porto she told
me her only worry about dying was what would happen to her 70 dogs who lived
unrestrained in her Campinas house."

And then friend, writer
Lygia Fagundes Telles, had this to say: "She left us a marvelous work,
a marvelous poetry. She was like me a spiritualist. One day, last year, she
called me 11 o’clock at night just to tell me: "Lygia, the soul is immortal."
"I know, Hilda," I told her. She just sent me a kiss and hang up.

Some of her poems were
made into music. Composer Adoniram Barbosa, for example, put to song two of
her works: "Quando te achei" and "Quando tu passas por mim".
Her erotic work started in 1982 when she published A obscena senhora D.
In the coming two years she would also release Cantares de perda e predileção
and Poemas malditos, gozosos e devotos. O caderno rosa de Lori Lamby
(Lori Lamby’s Pink Notebook) came out in 1990. Critics classified it as pornographic
the same as her next two poetry books published in 1992: Do desejo
(Of Desire) e Bufólicas.

Bibliography

Poetry

Presságio. São
Paulo, Revista dos Tribunais, 1950
Balada de Alzira.
São Paulo, Edições Alarico, 1951
Balada do festival.
Rio de Janeiro, Jornal de Letras, 1955
Roteiro do Silêncio.
São Paulo. Anhambi, 1959
Trovas de muito
amor para um amado senhor. São Paulo. Anhambi, 1959
Ode fragmentária.
São Paulo, Anhambi, 1961
Sete cantos do poeta
para o anjo. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1962
Poesia. São
Paulo, Livraria Sal, 1967
Júbilo, memória,
noviciado da paixão. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1974
Poesia. São
Paulo, Quíron/INL, 1980
Da Morte. Odes mínimas.
São Paulo, Massao Ohno, Roswitha Kempf, 1980
Cantares de perda
e predileção. São Paulo, Massao Ohno/M. Lídia
Pires e Albuquerque Editores,1980
Poemas malditos,
gozosos e devotos. São Paulo, Massao Ohno/Ismael Guarnelli Editores,
1984
Sobre a tua grande
face. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1986
Amavisse. São
Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1989
Alcoólicas.
São Paulo, Maison de vins, 1990
Do desejo. São
Paulo, Pontes, 1992
Bufólicas.
São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1992
Cantares do sem
nome e de partidas. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1995
Do amor. São
Paulo, Edith Arnhold/Massao Ohno, 1999

Fiction

Fluxo-Floema. São
Paulo, Perspectiva, 1970
Qadós. São
Paulo, Edart, 1973
Ficções.
São Paulo, Quíron, 1977
Tu não te
moves de ti. São Paulo, Cultura, 1980
A obscena senhora
D. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1982
Com meus olhos de
cão e outras novelas. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1986
O caderno rosa de
Lori Lamby. São Paulo, Massao Ohno, 1990
Contos d’escárnio/Textos
grotescos. São Paulo, Siciliano, 1990
Cartas de um sedutor.
São Paulo, Paulicéia, 1991
Rútilo nada.
Campinas, Pontes 1993
Estar sendo. Ter
sido. São Paulo, Nankin, 1997
Cascos e carícias:
crônicas reunidas. São Paulo, Nanquim, 2000

Plays

A Possessa, 1967
O rato no muro,
1967
O visitante, 1968
Auto da barca de
Camiri, 1968
O novo sistema,
1968
As aves da noite,
1968
O verdugo, 1969
A morte do patriarca,
1969
Teatro reunido (volume
I), 2000

A Taste of Hilda
Hilst

Hás de viver um
tempo,

morte minha

Como se fosse o tempo do viver.

E caratonhas,

fogos-fátuos, foices

Hão de reverdecer

em azul e ocre

E banhado de luz

volto a nascer

E nunca mais o sangue

em nossos corpos

Só luz, entropia

e o riso deslavado

De não ser.

From Estar Sendo/Ter
Sido

Aflição
de ser eu

e não ser outra.

Aflição de não ser,

amor, aquela

Que muitas filhas te deu,

casou donzela

E à noite se prepara

e adivinha



Objeto de amor,

atenta e bela.

Aflição de não ser

a grande ilha

Que te retém

e não te desespera

(A noite como fera

se avizinha).

Aflição de ser água

em meio à terra

E ter a face conturbada

e móvel.

E a um tempo só

múltipla e imóvel

Não saber se se
ausenta

ou se te espera.

Aflição de te amar,

se te comove.

E sendo água, amor,

querer ser terra

From Do Amor

Me cobrirão de
estopa

Junco, palha.

Farão de minhas canções

Um oco, anônima mortalha

E eu continuarei buscando

O frêmito da palavra.

E continuarei

Ainda que os teus passos

De cobalto

Estrôncio

Patas hirtas

Devam me preceder.

Em alguma parte

Monte, serrado, vastidão

E nada.

Eu estarei ali

Com minha canção de sal.

From Da Morte. Odes
Mínimas

Excerpts

Natural Theology

The future’s face he didn’t
see. Life, a gross imitation of nothing. So he thought about hollows of face,
blindness, corroded hands, and feet, everything would be eaten by the salt,
stretched out whiteness of the condemned, damned saltiness, infernal saltbed,
he thought glasses gloves galoshes, thought about selling that which, all
Tio sunk in brilliance, beef jerky was he, dried, salted, stretched, and the
meat-face of the future where was it? He dreamed himself sweetened, cane syrup
body, betterment if only he could buy the things, sell something, Tio. What?
In the city there are people who even buy shit in packages, if you only had
a conch or oyster, ah, but your foot would never stand the whole day in the
saltbed and then again at night, at the edge of the salty water, in the crevice
of the rock, on the jags where the oysters used to live. He entered the house.
Dryness, emptyhood, from the corner she peered at him and gnawed some hard
ones in the wetness of her mouth, no, she wasn’t a rat, she was everything
Tio owned, peering again at her son’s strange acts, Tio soaking some rags,
filling his hands with ashes, if I rub you right you’ll whiten a little and
be beautiful, I’ll sell you there, and someday buy you back, softness on the
tongue spoke in pauses, no hooks, I’ll sell you, now the back, turn around,
now you clean your belly, I’ll turn around and you clean your privates, while
you clean your bottom I’ll get a handful of raspberries, that’s enough, let’s
carefully spread this red mass over your face, on the cheeks, the lips, stand
up straighter so you hide your hump, glasses gloves galoshes, that’s all I
need, if they buy anything down there in the city they should buy you, later
I’ll come for you, and a few dustings off, primps, a few whisps of breath
on the wrinkled face, hair, giving the old lady a turn, examining her as only
an expert in mothers would, dreamed-of buyer, Tio tied to his back with some
old rope everything he owned, mute, small, delicate, a little speck of a mother,
and smiled a lot while he walked.

An Avid One in
Extremis

Spit in your face, a slap,
a punch, anything better than the word, KleinKu, I call you that, name with
the sonority of the language of poets and beasts, the act always better and
not like me myself the thought-leap to explain myself through minimal you.
I’m not dying KleinKu. I tried to explain the same thing to another one, stupid
like you, named Koyo and built stockades looking for my nail, stockades around
nothing, because for all that you raise up, never, closed like I am in this
braided mat, neither Koyo nor KleinKu would have the visor, the perforating
eye for the smallest of me. I’m not dying. Perfection is death, one of you
AH discovered and said Perfection is death, wouldn’t this be the greatest
proof of immortality? Koyo and KleinKu locked you up, insane asylum, in this
AH up against the wall can’t give speeches in the congresses, senates, it
would be the same, madmen in the inside, on the outside, all KleinKus repeating
that I am dead when this would be the inexpressible but the most significant
of all my acts. I want to die, a single marble slab over the I whole, I’d
rather the mat, that which never within your reach, not even with eyes closed,
KleinKu understand, I’m in agony but I’m not going to die, deteriorated, shapeless,
from here on pus and dust accumulating, I should live in silence, but the
one of me in silence runs to you, expresses itself in acts, and what acts
those of yours, savagery and arrogance in all of them, I must ask that you
hurry, finish, you have the means, more powerful than Nagasaki and Hiroshima,
and there’s a hunger in you too marvelous for your name, and isn’t it that
all your hungers fit in your despicable hole? I don’t know how one dies, and
I didn’t know that thinking me would expel concept and dunghill, I look at
you in a sobbing separating of distances, I look at me and in the body I search
for the tiniest point from where I can extract an all new, death, if I could
remake myself in death, I kneel twisted down before myself, that the divine
I find the road to Nothingness and on the way not try again to give form to
appearances, the I full of emotion wanted to translate itself into works,
thought Man to inhabit the Earth and it was as if one had thought sordidness
fossilized feces, that Nothingness should meet me once again, thought me Nothingness,
because for an instant it intended to give form to the Nothingness-Not Being,
ah KleinKu, I say it again, I’d rather the spit the punch the slap, anything
would be better that the word, and if I had cornets I could use them like
this one of me, fortunate Mahler, if I had cornets, the ones post-riders use,
oh if I only had them, I would extract the most painful sound for your impaired
hearing, if I had words like those of me Jeshua had them some mine incendiary,
but for KleinKu it was as if I had never committed them, if the many in me
could hammer your substance, once again molded, a new metaplasm, two hearts-head
for the man, acting in complete communion, KleinKu added on in some easts,
torn from the south, it would have been better to have consumed the idea-man
as soon as it was expelled, act the way I was taught by mine own, monks-cartridges
volatilizing the word at its source, KleinKu thinking yes but incandescent
in the same moment returning to its root. Now black elbows braced in my softnesses,
I look at the absurd: you. Dear little mother, I GrosseKu, also baptized by
men with esoteric names, Pneuma, the All-One, the No Name, dear little mother
I want your hand in mine, and Gide in an endless to my ear: "I want to
die in desperation." Maybe that way I’ll be able, maybe that way I learn
to die.

Both texts above
were translated by Dawn Jordan. They were originally published in Landscapes
of a New Land: Short Fiction by Latin American Women, Edited by Marjorie
Agosin Fredonia, New York: White Pine Press, 1992 Second Edition

The Obscene Mrs.
D

(excerpt)

I saw myself separated
from the center of something I don’t know how to name, but this won’t keep
me from the sacristy, incestuous theophaganite, no way, I Hillé also
called by Ehud Mrs. D, I Nothingness, I Nobody’s Name, I searching for the
light in a silent blindness, sixty years looking for the meaning of things.
Dereliction Ehud used to say to me, Dereliction——for the last time,
Hillé, Dereliction means forsakenness, abandonment, and because you
ask me every day and don’t remember, from now on I’ll call you Mrs. D. D for
Dereliction, do you hear? Forsakenness, Abandonment, from the beginning of
time the soul in emptyhood, sought for names, groped in corners, creases,
caressing folds, who knows maybe in the cords, the trimming, in the threads,
in the twistings, in the crotch of the pants, in the knots, in the visible
dailinesses, in the most minute absurdity, in the minimals, some day the light,
the understanding of all of us the destiny, someday I will understand Ehud

understand what?

this life and death thing,
these whys

listen, Mrs. D, instead
of these dealings with the divine, these luxuries of thought, how about if
you made me a cup of coffee, eh?

And he touched me, ran
his fingers down my hip, thighs, rested his mouth on my pubic hairs, in the
deepest part of me, Ehud’s hard mouth, fine moist and open when it touched
me, I said look, wait, I want so much to talk to you, no, stop it right now,
Ehud, please, I want to talk to you, to talk about the death of Ivan Illitch,
about the loneliness of this man, these nothingnesses of the day to day that
go on eating up the best part of us, I wanted to talk about the burden of
growing old, of the disappearance, of this thing that doesn’t exist yet is
raw, alive, Time. Now that Ehud is dead it’s going to be harder to live in
the space under the stairs, a year ago when he was still alive, when I took
over this place in the house, a few words still, he going up the stairs

Mrs. D, do you intend
to live under the stairs permanently? Are you listening to me, Hillé?
Look, I don’t want to upset you, but the answer isn’t under there, do you
hear? It’s not under the stairs nor up here, on the top landing, can’t you
understand there is no answer? No, I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand
now, in someone’s wisp of air, in a breath, in a more convulsive eye, in a
scream, in a misstep, in the smell who knows of dry things, in cow dung, some
day, some day, some day [….]

Excerpt translated
by Dawn Jordan

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