Paulo Leminski was a Brazilian poet and writer of Polish descent. He was born on 24th August, 1944, in Curitiba, the capital of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and he died there on 7th June, 1989.
Leminski’s family on his father’s side came from Poland. Due to his mother's African origins, the poet called himself a ‘hybrid from Curitiba’. When he was nineteen years old, he took part in the National Avant-Garde Poetry Week in Belo Horizonte, where he was nicknamed ‘the Rimbaud of Curitiba’ because of his young age and talent – the first of a long list of colourful nicknames he earned himself. He was also called a ‘cosmic multilingual parishioner’ (he was a polyglot), a ‘cunning samurai’ (he had a black belt in judo), ‘the Polish caboclo of Paraná’ (in the Tupi language caboclo means one who came from the forest, or the son of a white man), a ‘Latin-speaking bandit’ and a ‘bashed Pole’.
In Belo Horizonte, Leminski made contact with leading Brazilian representatives of concrete poetry, including Harold de Campos, Décio Pignatari and Augusto de Campos. In the early fifties, these three poets formed the Noigandres group, which initiated the concrete poetry movement in Brazil (the group’s manifesto was published in 1954 under the title Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry). A year later Leminski made his debut in the Invenção magazine with five poems, which did not obey any semantic nor syntactic conventions.
Leminski worked as a history teacher offering preparatory courses for high school students, and as creative director and writer at an advertising agency. Meanwhile he published poems in many local magazines and numerous volumes of poetry, translated to Polish only recently, and he also got involved in literary criticism – he mainly reviewed the works of contemporary authors for well-known Brazilian magazines and newspapers nationwide: Veja and Folha de São Paulo. In addition to poetry, Leminski wrote experimental prose, such as Catatau and Agora é que são elas, and biographies (of Jesus Christ, Leon Trotsky, the Brazilian poet Cruz e Souza, and the Japanese poet Bashō). According to some sources, he spoke six foreign languages, while others say that he spoke ten. He translated books by Yukio Mishima, Alfred Jarry, James Joyce, Petronius, Samuel Beckett, and John Lennon, as well as individual verses by Mayakovsky and Mickiewicz into Portuguese. Leminski also composed and wrote songs for many famous singers and musicians (his lyrics were sung by popular Brazilian music stars: Caetano Veloso, Itamar Assumpção, Ney Matogrosso, Arnaldo Antunes). He had three children and two wives, including the poet Alice Ruiz.
Paulo Leminski began his adventure with poetry as a concrete poet, and he later adopted the ideas of ‘marginal poets’ (poems written by them were photocopied and distributed on the street). He also had a fascination with Tropicalism, the works of the Beat Generation and Japanese haiku, which strongly influenced his work. In more recent times, he lost the stigma of an ‘excommunicated poet’ and permanently entered the canon of Brazilian literature, being the subject of mass worship and pop culture fashion.
In his works Leminski repeatedly referred to Polish motifs. The protagonist of his most famous experimental prose Catatau (1975), whose genre is not easy to determine, is Krzysztof Arciszewski, General of Artillery, enlisted in the service of the Dutch West India Company. He arrived in Brazil with an expedition sent against Spain and Portugal. Leminski took inspiration from this historical figure to create an ambivalent satirical and philosophical tale. Its main character, Cartesius (not Descartes, but just a certain Renatus Cartesius), tries to understand Brazil. Under the influence of the tropical climate and the smoking of unidentified herbs Cartesius Descartes indulges in delirious contemplation while waiting for Arciszewski, who appears at the very end of this literary experiment, completely drunk.
Leminski’s works also contain references to the country of his ancestors. He translated the poem Polały się łzy (I Shed Clear Tears) by Mickiewicz into Portuguese. The poet selected texts for translation guided by his own taste. By translating Joyce or Yukio Mishima, Leminski gave expression to his literary fascinations, and then drew from their work to create his own texts. Cacatau is full of allusions not only to Joyce, but also to Jorge Luis Borges, Denis Diderot (Jacques the Fatalist and his Master), and François Rabelais (The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel).
Author: Aleksandra Pluta, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, April 2015.