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MARIO QUINTANA

Poet: 1906 - 1994

   John D. Godinho


Mario Quintana

“There’s no salvation outside of poetry...”

WHEN IT ALL HAPPENED...

1906- Mario de Miranda Quintana is born in the City of Alegrete (State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), on July 30, the fourth son of Celso de Oliveira Quintana and Virginia de Miranda Quintana. 1915- He finishes his primary schooling. 1919 – He enrolls at the Military College of Porto Alegre and his first writings are published in Hyloea, a magazine published by the school’s Civic and Literary Society. 1924- He leaves the Military College. 1925 – He begins to work in his father’s pharmacy. 1926 – His short story A sétima personagem (The Seventh Character) is awarded a prize in the competition promoted by the Diário de Notícias, a Porto Alegre daily. 1927 – One of his poems is published in the magazine Para Todos, of Rio de Janeiro. 1928 – He begins to work in the newsroom of O Estado do Rio Grande do Sul, a daily. 1930 – Some of his poems are published in the Revista do Globo, a magazine, and in Correio do Povo, a daily. He volunteers to serve in Rio de Janeiro with the Seventh Gunner Battalion during the Revolution led by Getúlio Vargas. 1931 - He goes back to work in the newsroom of O Estado do Rio Grande. 1934 – He becomes a translator for Editora Globo. 1940 – Publication of his first book, A Rua dos Cataventos (Pinwheel Street). 1943 – He begins to write Caderno H, a section of the Província de São Pedro Magazine. 1946 – His book Canções (Songs) is published by Editora Globo. 1948Sapato florido (The Flowered Shoe), poetry and prose, is published. Later that year, he publishes O batalhão de letras (The Letter Battalion), a children’s book.  1950 –Publication of O aprendiz de feiticeiro (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). 1951 – Editora Globo publishes O espelho mágico (The Magic Mirror). 1953 – He returns to Correio do Povo and, once again, writes his daily column Caderno H. That year, he publishes Inéditos e esparsos (New and Scarce). 1966 – He publishes Antologia poética (Poetic Anthology), which is awarded the Fernando Chinaglia Prize as best book of the year. Quintana is saluted by the Brazilian Academy of Letters. 1973 – His book Do Caderno H is published. 1975-  Publication of Pé de Pilão (Pestle Foot), a children’s book. 1976 – Special edition of Quintanares. The poet receives the Negrinho do Pastoreio medal, the highest decoration awarded by the State of Rio Grande do Sul. His book Apontamentos de história sobrenatural (Notes on Supernatural History) is published. 1977 –A vaca e o hipogrifo (The Cow and the Hippogriff) is published. That same year, the poet is awarded the Pen Club Prize for Brazilian Poetry, for his book Notes on Supernatural History. 1978 – The anthology Prosa & Verso (Prose & Verse) is published. 1979 – He publishes Na volta da esquina (Around the Corner), a collection of articles. 1980 – Publication of Esconderijos do Tempo (Time’s Hiding Places). Quintana is awarded the Machado de Assis Prize by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, for his life’s work. 1981 – Editora Codecri publishes Antologia Poética (Poetic Anthology). 1982 – Quintana is conferred the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. 1983 – The old Hotel Majestic, where the poet lived for many years, is recognized by the State as a historical heritage site and becomes the Mario Quintana Cultural Center. 1984Caderno H becomes a section of the weekly magazine Isto É. Nariz de vidro (Glass Nose) and O sapo amarelo (The Yellow Toad) are published. 1986 – Publication of Baú de espantos (A Chest Full of Surprises). 1987Da preguiça como método de trabalho (On laziness as a Form of Work) and Preparativos de viagem (Preparations for a Trip)  are published. 1988 – Publication of Porta Giratória (Revolving Door). 1989 – Publication of A cor do invisível (The Color of the Invisible). Quintana is awarded degrees of Doctor Honoris Causa  by the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and the       Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). 1990 – The Mario Quintana Cultural Center is reopened after being completely restored. Velório sem defunto (Wake without a Corpse) is published. 1994 – Publication of Sapato Furado (Shoe with a Hole). Mario Quintana dies on May 5, in Porto Alegre.

 

MEMORIES AND GHOSTS


Quintana and his
inseparable friend, a cigarette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       From his  window on the eighth floor, Mario practices his favorite sport—watching the daily life of the people of Porto Alegre. It’s only 10 in the morning, but the street below is already crowded. His eyes follow the crowd, slowly, in keeping with what would be his pace, that of an old man with a cane. He knows that, up ahead, a kind of excitement will be in the air near Alfândega Square, where inflamed religious zealots compete with a blind man and his harmonica, with the screams and laughter of children at play, and with the shouts of fruit vendors, for the attention of uninterested passers-by.

      After a while, he sits on the red velvet chair near the window and lights another cigarette, as he ponders the full day ahead of him: first, he’ll have to put up with another interview and face the customary shoddy questions. Later, he’ll have to participate in the grand opening of the cultural center scheduled to coincide with his birthday and listen to the usual uninspired speeches.  Damned interviews! Those guys don’t know how I hate to rehash old memories. They make me feel as if I were in a séance.

       He begins to shuffle the stack of loose papers on the side table next to the chair, looking for some notes he had taken for an article he is writing for Isto É magazine. His attention is drawn to a yellowed crinkled envelope with a poem he had scribbled sometime ago and which seems to be a warning, now that he’s going to be interviewed once again…”Try to forget me…/To be remembered is like evoking a ghost…/Let me be what I am,/ What I have always been,

                     A flowing river…

                     The hours will sing, in vain,

                     Along my river banks.

                     I will adorn myself with stars

                     Like a royal mantle.

                     I’ll be embroidered

                     with clouds and wings,

                     Children will, now and then,

                     Bathe themselves in me…

                     A mirror does not keep

                     the things it reflects!

                                                    

                    And my fate is to move on…

                    Move on toward the sea,

                    Losing what I reflect along the   

                                                       way…

                    Let me flow, let me pass,

                    let me sing…                                           

                    The sadness of all rivers

                    Is that they cannot linger!   (1)

 

THE SHELLS OF THE HOURS 
AND LIQUEUR FILLED CHOCOLATES


“Unexpectedly,
I find a picture of me when I was 10.

I put it away, quickly.
Who knows what that little guy is
thinking about me?

         Mario sits back on the tufted red velvet chair and lets his eyes wander around the room, until they rest upon an astrological chart on the wall (Sun in Leo in the 6th house, rising in Pisces in the 7th, Moon in Sagittarius), then drop to the top of his desk and get lost in the rummage of books, packs of cigarettes, and sundry papers, until they move up again to meet with the insistent gaze of Greta Garbo, in a ¾ profile, in a poster hanging above the headboard of his bed. Quickly, he turns his head away as he remembers that portraits on the wall/ Cannot remain abstract for long/Sometimes their eyes will gaze at you, unyielding,

                        Because they never become

                        Fully dehumanized.

                        Never look back, suddenly.

                        Don’t, don’t look now!

                        The best thing to do is to sing

                        Crazy and endless songs…

                        Endless and meaningless.

                        The kind of song

                        we used to  make up

                        To fool the loneliness of

                        moonless  paths.     (2)

      

            He smiles and slowly walks to his worktable, dragging with his feet newspaper sheets spread all over the floor. He picks up the phone, calls room service and orders a thermos jug of coffee, a sandwich and two coconut puddings.  A few minutes later, someone knocks at the door—it’s Mauro, the waiter.

           “Good morning, Mr. Mario,” says the waiter, carrying a tray with the coffee, the food and a package decorated with a colorful ribbon. There’s an envelope tied to the bow.”Happy birthday, sir.”

      “Thank you, Mauro,” says the poet, while clearing the worktable where the waiter places the tray. “I knew you wouldn’t forget.”

      “How could I?  You’ve been our guest for so many years.”

 

     “Is this package a gift from you?”

     “No, it was left early this morning by a lady who said she was your friend. She asked that it be delivered only after 10 o’clock.”

      “Thanks for bringing it. And thanks for being such a friend all these years,” says the poet, as the waiter walks out the door.

     Sitting on the edge of his bed, Mario begins to open the package, mulling over the words of the waiter. You’re right, my friend. So many years.  And yet they seem like no time at all. But what can we do?  Life is a lot of school assignments to be done as homework/Before you know it, it’s already six o’clock, there’s time…

            Before you know it,

            It’s already Friday…

            Before you know it,

            Sixty years have gone by!

            Now, it’s too late to flunk out…

            If, some day, I were given

            another chance

            I wouldn’t even look at a clock.

            I’d keep moving,

            always moving ahead

            Discarding along the way

            the useless golden    

            shells of the hours…   (3)

 

     The envelope contains a note written in well-designed handwriting: “Dear Mario, Happy Birthday! I had to be away from Porto Alegre today, so I won’t see you at the opening. But I’ll be back tomorrow and will drop by to see you. Congratulations for everything. Gloria.”

      Mario knows the contents of the package, since he had suggested the present to Gloria: liqueur filled chocolates.  The gift contains the only form of alcohol allowed by his doctors, after his great excesses, which resulted in two long stays at a rehab clinic in the 1950’s. Mario thinks they are being too strict; to him, it had been a simple binge…which lasted twenty-five years.

 

CONFESSIONS IN A COMMA


As a child, Mario had the nickname
of Blue Boy because of the contrast
between his very white skin and the
color of his veins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Book cover
A rua dos cataventos
(Pinwheel Street)

 

 

 

 

 

    I hope the interviewer doesn’t touch on the drinking episode. These fellows can be unpredictable crashing bores, so I’d better take the initiative. “The worst bores are those that keep asking questions. I prefer the narrative bores because we can think of something else while they talk…” Hell, if they want to know about me, let them read my writings. “My life is in my poems, they are me; I never wrote a comma that wasn’t a confession.”

     Now, lying on the bed, Mario lights another cigarette and selects a chocolate. Savoring the liqueur contents with relish, he rehearses what to say during the interview, without losing his good humor.

          “Look,” he says, addressing a wicker chair occupied by an invisible interviewer.  “I was born on July 30, 1906, in Alegrete, close to the Uruguayan and Argentinean border, in a rough winter, with below freezing temperatures. To top it all, I was a premature baby, which gave me a certain complex, because I thought I was an unfinished project. Until the day I discovered that someone as complete as Winston Churchill had also been a premature baby.” 4)

     “In 1928, I came to Porto Alegre, worked in a number of newspapers and had some of my poems published. But I suspect you already know all about that.  What you probably don’t know is that I translated thirty-eight books by such authors as Proust, Balzac, Voltaire, Maupassant and Virginia Woolf, among others.  Now you might ask: Didn’t you do any writing during that time? Of course I did. ‘I’ve been writing since I can remember. But my first book was published only in 1940, when I was 34. It was Rua dos Cataventos (Pinwheel Street).’”

     Mario goes to the window and, once again, appears absorbed by what’s going on in the street below. After a while, he turns to the imaginary interviewer and continues: “Evil tongues give you no peace—they say that I keep chasing ghosts within myself, that I insist on exhuming the streets of Alegrete in the middle of the big city. Hell! I’ve always been fascinated by streets and by everything that happens in them.”  It pains me just to know/There are streets in Porto Alegre/Where   my feet will never go…

      One of these days, when I am

      A speck of dust, or a leaf, windblown

      In the early hours of dawn,

      I’ll be a bit of that something,

     With which you have been blessed,

     and makes your delicious air   

     seem to be a loving stare.

                                     ...             

     City where I walk my life;       

     where, perhaps, I’ll be laid to rest…(5)

 

      The telephone rings.   Someone at the reception desk informs Mario that there’s a woman journalist coming up to see him. He nods toward the empty wicker chair and says: “It’s you, in the flesh”, then straightens out his blue-gray robe and goes to open the door.

 

POETRY IS A MANNER OF TALKING TO YOURSELF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    After the usual exchange of smiles and greetings, the journalist remarks:

     “It’s a pleasure to see you again.  We met during a symposium at last year’s Book Fair.”

     “Yes, of course.  You’re also a poet, right?” says Mario. He invites the journalist to sit in the wicker chair, next to a small table where he’d already put the coffee jug and two demitasse cups.  “Make yourself at home.”

     The journalist places a small tape recorder on the table and says that the interview will be aired on Radio FM Cultura later in the day.  She takes out a notebook and an anthology of Mario’s poems, and puts them next to the coffee jug, while she comments on the event that’s going on the city—a type of  poetry marathon when, for 24 hours, a number of poets will take the microphone and recite their poems as well as those of other poets, including Mario’s.

     “A number of your poems were presented and commented on”, says the journalist, showing Mario a copy of the program of the event. “At the very beginning, someone presented one of your poems that talks about poetry. May I say it for our listeners?”

     “Of course. I’m glad you said ‘say it’ instead of ‘recite it’. I hate recitals.”

     The journalist begins to read:

                  Poems are

                  birds that come

                  nobody knows from where

                  and touch down on the book

                  you are reading.

                  When you close the book,

                  they take flight

                  as if fleeing from a bird trap.

                  They have no resting place,

                  no haven,

                  they feed, for an instant,

                  from each pair

                  of hands

                  and leave.

                  Then, you look

                  at your empty hands

                  wondrously surprised

                  to know

                  that their nourishment

                  was already in you... (6)

 

       “I didn’t go to the event, I was tired. But it’s always good to know that there’s such a multitude of poets.”

     “I remember another one of your comments about poetry: ‘Poetry and photography have one thing in common—they make the passing moment eternal.  What else is poetry to you?”

     “Poetry is a manner of talking to yourself, it’s a lucid madness, because there are subjects that I can’t bring up in a conversation or people will think that I’m crazy. Things that impress me, like a shape or stain on a wall, the reflection of street lights in a puddle, or a little cloud alone in the sky, lost from the other clouds…That’s what my poems are about.”

     “Can you imagine yourself in another profession?”

     “Being a poet is not a profession. It’s more like a state of mind or being in a coma. I wanted to be a page in medieval times…But never mind. Today I would like to be something even crazier: I would like to be myself.”

     “Judging from your body of work, many critics say that there are several Quintanas. In reality, how many are there?”

     “Well, there’s Quintana, the poet, when he is creating poems. That’s why when they ask me ‘Are you Mario Quintana’ I answer ‘Sometimes!’ Then there’s the humorist, the joker, the romantic, the lonely, and, perhaps, a number of others. I’ve been called a gentle poet and even the angel poet. Obviously, an exaggeration.

     “What advice would you have for our listeners regarding poetry?”

     “Well, I can recommend a poem they can use as a starting point. It goes like this: 

               Erudite sharpness...

               refinement...

               —no!

               You’ll find none of that here.

               A poem is not meant

               to entertain you

               like the changing images

               in a kaleidoscope.                                                        

                    

              A poem is not when

              you pause to enjoy a detail.

              Nor is a poem finished

              when you stop at the end,

              because a true poem

              goes on living forever...

              A poem that does not

              help you live and doesn’t

              prepare you for death

              is meaningless: it is

              a poor rattle of words.    (7)

 

COME! LET’S JOIN THE CROWD!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Your book Pinwheel Street has been described as a kind of movie made up of scenes in the form of sonnets. Do you agree?”

      Mario lights up a cigarette and pours a cup of coffee for the interviewer.

     “Yes, of course. Poetry is not an association of ideas, it’s an association of images.”

“The book was published at a time when modernism was at its peak and a sonnet was considered a thing of the past. Why did you choose the sonnet?”

“Well, to the critics in Rio and São Paulo, with their noses up in the air, it was archaic poetry full of traces of a Symbolism long dead and buried. They didn’t even suspect that ‘to belong to a school of poetry is to be sentenced to life imprisonment.’  As a result, they promoted a type of collective poetry, because the herd doesn’t know how to conjugate in the first person singular.”

“But the book was a best seller, wasn’t it?”

     “Yes. And do you know why? Because it spoke of simple things, of little things in life and all I wanted was to take a new look at the world and surprise reality.”

Or be surprised by it? As in your poem:

          I have no idea

         what these trees,

         these old street corners

         want from me,

         to become so much

         a part of me 

      only because I looked

      at them for a moment...

     

         Ah, if they require any documents

         when I get to the Other Side,                                                    

         since all other memories were erased,
         I will only be able to show them

         loose leaves from a picture album:
         a smooth rock here,
        
a standing horse there,
        or

        a lost cloud,

         lost…

         Dear Lord, what a strange way to tell

        one’s life story!   

 

“According to the critics, there’s been an evolution in your poetry since you wrote Pinwheel Street. How would you describe such evolution?”

     “That’s what they’re saying now. But, don’t forget, ‘worse, far worse, than crocodile tears are crocodile smiles.  I’ve never evolved, I’ve always been myself.’”

     “Would you say that you rejected the isolation of the ivory tower of the schools of poetry and chose to remain in the streets?” asks the journalist, as she leafs through her notebook.  “There’s a clear indication of that in your Sonnet IV. I think our listeners will enjoy it.” 

               My street is full of                                                    

                vendors’ yells and cries.

                It feels as though I’m seeing    

                with my ears:  “Fresh greens!                                                         

                Persimmons! Pineapples!

                Great buys!

                I’m going out to join

                the Carnival of noise.
 

                Come, my Guardian Angel...

                Why are you so horrified

                and cover your ears?

               Come, let’s listen to the    voice                                                  

                  of brazen street urchins

               exchanging cusswords

               as they rejoice!

 

                Why live in a cloister

                in another sphere?

                Let’s feel the agitation of the world

                down here…                                                        

                The rhythm of the street

                is calling us, clear and loud. 

               Come!  Come with me and mix

               with the crowd!

         

               This is not socialist poetry...

               It contains not a hint of strife,

               This, my poor Angel... 

               …to put it simply…. is…

                 Life!     (9)

 

While she reads, Mario remains still, lost in the curly wavy transparencies emanating from the tip of his cigarette.

     “Elena, your niece, said in a recent interview that you are irreverent and that you have difficulty following formalities. Isn’t that sonnet proof of that?

     “Well, there’s no use trying to interpret a poem, because a poem is already an interpretation.”

     “But isn’t your irreverence and humor what makes so much success in your column Caderno H published in the newspapers?”

     “Maybe—says Mario, laughing out loud. “Humor can turn everyday banalities into magic. Do you know why? It’s because our daily existence is full of mysteries and surprises.”

     “And full of losses and blows of bad luck, as you so well described in Sonnet XVII,” says the journalist. She opens the anthology and starts to read:

 

The very first time that I was murdered  

I lost my smile, the way I used to be...

Then, each time they came

and I was killed again

They always took something that belonged to me...

 

Today, of all my bodily remains,

I am the barest corpse with nothing left.

The burning flame of a yellowed candle stump                                                             
is the only thing of value that survived the theft!

 

Come, all you jackals, crows,

and highwaymen!

Ah! None will succeed, should you to try to sever 

                                                             
or wrest from my bony hand the sacred light!

 

 Birds of Night! Wings of Horror! Fly out of

sight!


For the burning light, a sad and trembling sigh,

The light of a dead man will never die! Never!    

(10)  

“Anyway,” says the poet, “it’s still worth to be alive, if only to be able to say that life is not worth living.”

                              

EPIGRAMS AND LITTLE POEMS



 


 

 “Many of your prose poems have become extremely popular. Our listeners know many of your sayings such as “The soul is that thing that keeps asking us if the soul exists” or “Cannibalism is an exaggerated form of enjoying your neighbor.”  In your opinion, this direct and witty contact with the public helps or hinders the promotion of your other writings?”

     “To be honest, I prefer that you cite the opinion of other people about me and my work.”

     “Some critics say that Caderno H helps because it presents a type of lyric and accessible writing that has won a large following. Who wouldn’t be impressed by something so honest and direct as ‘When two people make love, they’re winding up the world’s clock.’”

“What else do they say?”

     “Well, they also say your simplicity makes your poetry plebeian, not very serious.”

     “I know,” says Mario, with a deep sigh, “our pundits think it’s a huge sin to be accessible. And they don’t appreciate good humor.”

     “Was your Poeminha do Contra  (Little Poem of Opposition) addressed at those critics, when you played with the words “big bird/little bird”? 

            All those people who are now

            standing in my way,

            They, big warblers, will pass…

            I, a Tweetie Pie, will stay…   (11)

Mario doesn’t answer; he simply smiles.

 

WHAT IS HUMOR?

 


Quintana as
seen by Lan

       “Your poetry seems to be light and easy,” says the journalist, “but it really is deep and complex.  Is your humor a mere disguise, a cover?”

     “Humor is a kind of filter. ‘Actually, I detest verbal sentimentality, so I put touches of humor in my poems. Let’s say that they are touches of impurity. I think I can laugh at the world without mocking it.’”

     “Even when you approach the most serious subjects, such as death, the supernatural, the passing of time, God, or the conflicts between essence and appearance?”

     “Of course,” says the poet, “ because in life things are intertwined, as I said in my poem:

              Time is an invention of death;

              life is not aware of it,

              that is, the true life, 

              when a moment of poetry

              is all one needs

              to gain all of eternity.

                            

             All of it, of course,

             since it will not admit

             any form of division,

             except by itself, 

             and no one can claim

             a mere piece of it. 

 

            And the Angels, perplexed,

            trade looks of surprise                    

            whenever someone

            —now conscious,

            back in the afterlife—

            happens to ask:

           “What time is it?”…(12)       

“And so, what is the message of your poetry?” asks the journalist.

     “My message?” says the poet, feigning surprise. “There’s none. I’m not delivering any messages. I’m not an errand boy.” 

     “But your writings are full of religious references.”

     “Yes, but ‘I’m really a heretic regarding all religions.  That’s why I find it difficult to understand people who change religions. Why go from one set of doubts to another?’”

     “In your column Caderno H you once said: ‘Theology is the longest way to reach God.’ Do you think poetry shortens that path?”

     “Well, that’s what man did, without realizing it. Think about it. ‘An animal, when it wants to get away from others, digs a hole in the ground; man, to get away from himself, makes a hole in the sky.’”

      “Is that where poetry comes in?”

      “Yes, of course. There’s no salvation outside of poetry.”

      Mario points to the anthology brought by the journalist:

      “Please, take a look in that anthology and see the poem If I were a priest. I think your listeners will have a better idea of what I’m talking about.”

      She finds the poem and starts reading:

              If I were a priest,

             I would not, in my sermons,

             speak of  God,

             or of moral corruption

             —much  less talk about the

             Rebel Angel

             and his charming  

             seduction.

 

             I would not cite the saints

             and prophets,

             their heavenly

             promises

             or terrible curses...                          

 

             If I were a priest,

             I would cite the poets

             and pray their most

             beautiful verses;

                  

             The kind that have lulled me

             since early childhood,

             some of which I wish

             were mine!

             For poetry purifies the soul…

            

             And a beautiful poem—

             even if distant from God—

             a beautiful poem

             always takes us to Him! (13)

 

 “To tell the truth,” says Mario, “it doesn’t matter if we believe in God or not; what really matters is whether God believes in us…”

      The telephone rings, interrupting him. He answers.

     “Hi, Elena. What’s up? Yes… I’m in the middle of an interview for FM Cultura…I don’t know…I’m not sure…I’ll see you there.”

 

MY LIFE WAS NOT SO ROMANTIC


 Quintana in his bedroom

 While Mario is on the phone, talking to his niece, the journalist takes notes on the astrological chart on the wall. When he finishes, she comments: 

     “I notice your sign is rising in Pisces, the most easy and fluent of them all because…”

     “Because life began in the sea,” says Mario. “That’s where everything begins over and over again…always.”

     “Is that why hope is such a constant presence in your writings?  I remember the poem where you say:

                                         

                    So what if things are

                    beyond our reach!

                    No reason for not wishing

                    them to be ours…

 

                   How joyless would 

                   our paths be, were it not

                   for the distant presence

                   of the stars!     (14)

 

     “You’re right, I deal with hope quite often.”

     “And what about love? Was your poem Bilhete (Love Note) addressed to one of your famous muses, like Greta Garbo?

   

                     If you really love me,

                    whisper it to me.
                    Don't scream it from the  

                    rooftops,                                                                   

                    Let the birds in peace

                    And let me be.

                                                         

                    If you really want me,
                    be slow and easy, love,

                    if you will.
                    Because life is brief

                    and love is briefer         
                    still…      (15)

                                                                 

         Mario listens and remains quiet for a few moments when she finishes. He gets up and slowly walks toward the window, where he stays for a while, in silence. His eyes are lost in space and, for once, he doesn’t notice the hurly-burly in the street below. “My life hasn’t been so romantic.../ I’ve no secrets to hide,/And, to be sincere,                                   

           If you love me, don’t tell me,

           for I might die

           of surprise…of ecstasy… of fear

           …                    

          My life hasn’t been so romantic…

          But when I felt it was near its demise,

          My poor life became so dependant 

          on a smile...on a touch…

           on a look in your eyes!       (16)

 

     When he returns to his chair, the journalist asks:

     “You’ve always lived alone in hotels and boarding houses. What is loneliness to you?”

     Mario toys with the cigarette lighter and lights a cigarette before answering.

     “The only problem with loneliness is keeping it. The fact is that I need to be alone because I’m a poetry werewolf. I write after midnight until three or four in the morning. You see, at night we are visited only by ghosts and they are silent…And that’s great, because the solitude of a poet makes contact with other solitudes so as to create the flow of poetry.”

      “Yes,” says the journalist. “That feeling seems clear in what you wrote about the little ant: ‘A little ant crosses, diagonally, the blank page. That night, the poet was not able to write at all. How could he, if the page had already felt the quiver and the mystery of life…’”        (17)

 

WHO’S AFRAID OF QUINTANA’S HUMOR?


Mario pays special
attention to his fans

 

    “The critics still talk about another mystery.  You were a candidate for a seat in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but they rejected you. Why?

     “Not once, not twice, but three times,” explains Mario, smiling. “That was in 1981 and 1982, when some friends insisted on submitting my name.”

     “But in 1966, the Academy had paid tribute to you and, in 1980, awarded you the Machado de Assis Prize for your life’s work. How come they voted against you?”

     “Who knows? Maybe they thought I would start mocking one of their symbols, their gold-braided uniform. Or that I would end up breaking the precious china cups they use for their five o’clock tea.”

    “Maybe,” says the journalist, “maybe they were afraid of your humor, as in the poem:

 

                  His was a great name...

                  no doubt about it!

                  It was truly top drawer.

                  One day he got sick, died,

                  and became a street name…

                  And they kept

                  stepping on him as before.  (18)

 

     “No, no, far be it from me to be ironic!” says Mario. “After all, the Academy makes its members… immortal.

     The journalist covers her mouth to conceal a smile.

     “What is your relationship with the Academy today?”

     “I get along very well with everyone there. Please, don’t consider this to be sour grapes, but I really never wanted to be a member.”

     “There was a time when you were evicted from the Hotel Majestic and had no place to stay. Wasn’t it then that you wrote: A bomb made a huge hole in the roof through which the blue sky smiled at the survivors. There it is again, the theme of hope.”

“I was evicted because the owner went bankrupt and the hotel was going to become a branch office of a bank.”

      “I remember the strong public reaction against that,” says the journalist. “The state ended up declaring the hotel to be a cultural monument and turned it into the Mario Quintana Cultural Center to be inaugurated today. Isn’t that ironic?”

     “It’s a great honor, for me” says Mario, his voice a little weaker.

     He picks up the cigarette lighter and the pack of cigarettes and asks:

     “What time are they going to broadcast our conversation?”

     “At 6 p.m.,” says the journalist, as she gathers up her things and thanks him for the interview.

      Mario accompanies her to the door, kisses her on the cheek and tells her how much he enjoyed chatting with her.

      “Too bad I won’t be able to hear it. I’ll be at the Center at that time.”

 

  THE BEST PRESENT
 


Mario Quintana Cultural Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

        Mario selects his favorite clothes to wear to the inauguration of the Cultural Center—a dark blue suit, a white silk shirt and a tie with touches of red and yellow. His dream is coming true. In no time at all, he is on Pinwheel Street walking toward the stand set up for the ceremony, already surrounded by several hundred people, who step aside to make way for him, shouting his name and throwing confetti.  He can hardly hide his emotions, as he slowly walks up the steps to the platform.  Everyone is already there—the Governor, the Mayor, and other government and cultural authorities for the official opening of the biggest cultural center in Porto Alegre dedicated to literature, music, theater, cinema and to the research of the poet’s work.  While he awaits his turn to speak, he tries to listen to the jaded speeches of the dignitaries, but is finally overtaken by a strong desire to be alone with his thoughts, to talk to himself. The streetcar I take goes by the market/ but the good things in life are not for sale there,

         Because all such things are really free.

         This, my moment of euphoria,

         is the flower of eternity

         but  my joy also includes

         my sadness…

 

          Suddenly, Mario is brought back to the reality of the moment when one of the speakers utters his name with greater emphasis.  Mario looks at the him and adds to his thoughts, while smiling:

        —our sadness…

     Don’t you know, my traveling companion?

    All streetcars go toward infinity!      (19)
 

  A GREAT BLUE LOVING GAZE EMBRACING ME… 
 
 

      Mario’s streetcar kept on moving through time toward its destination and has brought him to a bed at the Moinho dos Ventos Hospital. He now realizes that his homework of life is almost at an end; soon, there’ll be no homework at all. He smiles as he says to himself: “death means total freedom; it’s when you can, at long last, lie in bed with your shoes on.” His eyes wander around the room, on the ceiling for a while, then on the walls, until they are caught by a piece of sky that comes in though the large window. And he continues talking to himself, making poetry, mulling over his surroundings:“This barren     

 sickroom, reflects my barren day:

 My books, I cannot read them anymore.

 My life, I no longer live it as before,

 it’s like a novel I stopped reading halfway…

 

 I’m looking at the sky,

 so intimately near,                                                                                                                  

 a sky that comforts me,

 and soothes my every fear,

 so close and friendly

 that it seems to be

 a great blue loving gaze

 embracing me.

     

Death should be like this:

something like a friend,

a sky that gently darkened into night

and we wouldn’t even know it was

 the end…(20)

 

                                         *

         30/ 07/1906       05/ 05/1994           

                      

       Inscription for a Cemetery Gate

         in The Color of the Invisible                                     

 

            On the same headstone you’ll find

                 tradition and a bit of gloss,

              above the date of birth, a star,

             above the date of death, a cross.
            

          But many of those who rest here now

        would correct us with their final breath:

       “There should be a cross above my birth…

       “and the light of a star above my death!


 

 

N.B.: This article includes some comments expressed by the poet in actual interviews.  All of the phrases and poems of Mario Quintana used here were translated from the original Portuguese by John D. Godinho.

                  

(1)  Tenta esquecer-me (Try to forget me) in

      Nova  Antologia Poética, Ed. Globo,

      S. Paulo, 1998.

(2)   Os retratos de parede (Portraits on a

       Wall) em  Esconderijos do tempo (Time’s  

        Hiding Places)

(3)   Seiscentos e sessenta e seis (Six Hundred

       and Sixty-Six) in  Time’s Hiding Places

(4)   Article written by the poet for the weekly

       magazine  Isto É, of Nov.14,1984.

 (5)  O  mapa in Apontamentos de História

       Sobrenatural  (Notes on Supernatural

       History)

(6)   Os poemas in Time´s Hiding Places

(7)   Projeto de prefácio (Draft of. a Preface)

       in Baú de espantos (A Chest Full of    

       Surprises)

(8)   Vida (Life) in Time’s Hiding Places

(9)   Sonnet IV in  A rua dos cataventos    

        (Pinwheel Street)

(10)  Sonnet XVII in Pinwheel Street.

(11)  Poeminha do contra(Little Poem of.

        Opposition)  in Prosa e Verso(Prose and

        Verse)

(12)  Ah, os relógios(The Clocks) in A cor do

        invisível(The Color of the Invisible)

(13)  Se eu fosse um padre em Nova Antologia

        Poética

(14)  Das utopias(On Utopias) in Espelho

         mágico(Magic Mirror)

(15)  Bilhete(Love Note)in Time’s Hiding

        Places

(16)  Canção para uma valsa lenta (Song for a

         Slow Waltz) in  Canções (Songs)

(17)  A formiguinha (The Little Ant) from

        Sapato Florido (The Flowered Shoe)

(18)  Era um grande nome (His was a great       

         name) fromCaderno H

(19) Meu bonde passa pelo mercado (The

        streetcar I take) in  A Chest Full of   

        Surprises

 

(20)  Este quarto ( This sickroom) in Notes on

        Supernatural History

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