On Mariano Marovatto and His “Casa”

“Casa” by Mariano Marovatto

The book is named House and many of the poems are set there, but it is hardly homely. Houses are concrete, present, but this is more about absence. In Portuguese Casa can mean house or home; in English it feels right for the title to be about the solid material of walls, bookcases, tables—the house—, rather than the emotional presence, the non-absence of the home.

The book is divided into two sequences of unnamed poems. The first, “O mundo cabe na gaveta” (“The World Fits in a Drawer”), subtly hints; something is wrong. The second, “Acordar amanhã” (“Wake Up Tomorrow”) is more direct; someone is gone:

if we had a baby
you love dogs
if we ate a peach
you seem like autumn
I’ve just chewed autumn.

This is from the first poem of that sequence. On first glance, it seems to divide into two halves of if… then… that break down on a closer look. The first two lines here feel verbatim: it’s one of those unconnected hypotheticals of break-up. The second two feel closer: peaches come in autumn both in Brazil and Europe. But you can’t eat a peach in a poem without a nod (and not the first among contemporary poets linked to Rio, both Matilde Campilho and Ismar Tirelli Neto have nods in the same direction) to Eliot’s Prufrock and, by extension, the not-daring and sexual frustration of that poem. And “chew” (“mastigar”) is from the right semantic area of a fair amount of sexual metaphor, but it’s also so wrong. Something is not right here.

Then several other poems in the sequence begin with mistakes or endings: “I crossed an ocean / in error”, “She says: finishing / is having nothing to begin again”, or what for me is the best of all:

The catastrophe house you
like a taxi driver
driving to anywhere

This simile does what good metaphor should. It creates a paradoxical connection that makes so much sense and that you fail to understand. Or put another way, one that works on the first read, not on the second, and then increasingly on the third, fourth and fifth. I’m still not sure I understand it perfectly yet, but yes, the taxi driver/passenger relationship is based on trust: the passenger trusts the taxi driver to go wherever is requested. But in the “catastrophe house”, who can say the driver does not have his or her own agenda.

These one-liners, similes and metaphors (note to reader: that one-liner is a metaphor) are one of the book’s real strong points, in the first sequence above all. Here are two of the best:

… The guidebooks are just grammars
of adventures will, inevitably, fail.

The house speaks like amateur
radio crackles and demands attention
like a new-born silently
listens. …

These objects are unpopulated, and in several of the poems in the first sequence, sound comes from outside the house, through walls or from the building’s inner workings. And these guidebooks, the house are filled with such emptiness and memory. And nowhere more so than here:

It lacks some details and motives,
from a comfortable space, from a privileged viewpoint,
at the origin of the facts. We saw in this green notebook
uncomfortable memories demanding an impractical
cleansing. It cost eighty Argentine pesos,
in a stationer’s perhaps, near a fruit
stall, in a far-off neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.
Under the pile of guidebooks and personal notes
everything was taken into account. A tale came about
that this purchase would be wonderful.
All of life’s projects ventured, the interminable
search for a moment. More could be said.
That it was cold, that the soles of feet hurt.
Of sweat. In the end, the notebook was so heavy,
inescapable, even without being filled in.–

This feels like a poem of a couple’s trip to Buenos Aires, but on a second glance, there’s almost no one in the poem. There is only one verb with people involved. Elsewhere the poem is full of (uncertain) practical and personal hopes expressed in completely impersonally, even down to the soles of feet. For me, the turning point is “More could be said”. Of course it could: more could be said about the lines before and the lines after, but through its hints, the poem almost says too much. Even the empty notebook is full.

So much of this blog has been about first and second glances. Look back at the cover of the book. The house is empty: the house is full of memory.

Mariano Marovatto, Casa, 7Letras (Rio de Janeiro), 2015 (Buy it from 7Letras)

As well as a poet, Mariano is also a musician and you get more of both at his website: marovatto.org

(The book is only available in Portuguese at the moment; the versions of the Portuguese above are mine)

One Response to On Mariano Marovatto and His “Casa”

  1. alexjosephy says:

    This sounds really interesting, Rob.

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