On a Test of Resistors

“um teste de resistores” by Marília Garcia

I’m not sure I can do this. Write a blog or a review on Marília Garcia’s um teste de resistores (a test of resistors). She’s one of the Brazilian poets whose work I most admire. Can I do this justice?

Last December I was in Salvador. As usual I had more books with me than I could sensibly read. Especially under the wide tropical skies, in the endless traffic, in taking care to look where I was going in that famously dangerous city. I had to leave them for the flight home. At the airport, I was listening to a podcast on the Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov. An inappropriate juxtaposition for the time and place. I turned it off, opened the book. Did I feel a sinking feeling that the second poem began on page 41 and I would be interrupted by questions about snacks and drinks before I had finished? I can’t remember. I read.

I do read a lot. But it’s rare for books or poems to have that effect of breathlessness on me. Poems by Raoul Schrott, Fred Moten, Yolanda Castaño and Claudia Rankine weigh on my recent mind. When this happens you have to tell someone. But what if you’re on a plane? What if the guy sitting next to you is hypnotized by the action movie on his tiny screen? What if you look at the disinterest of the stewardesses who you know will have no time for a second-hand account of a poet breaking down the fourth wall? What if you look out the window and feel an uncontrollable urge to switch on your phone who knows how many thousands of metres above Minas to make an urgent call about a poem? The only way was to write something down.

I’ve been meaning to write this blog ever since, but before I write a blog, I always at least try to re-read the book, but I’ve been treating this one, and especially the first poem ‘Blind Light’, like some kind of dangerous substance. I had to control the second reading carefully: start it on a long bus journey, on the metro ride home with the expanse of night ahead of me. I would have time. I would have reception.

I failed at achieving these laboratory conditions. An ex-colleague I hadn’t seen in a year was in town from São Paulo for just one night. I broke up the reading before and after a couple of beers over metro journeys and at home. Maybe I enjoyed it more that way. After all, the second hit is never quite the same as the first, especially if you’ve been making preparations for the surprise.

But I’d remembered more my reaction than the substance of the book. I had forgotten, for instance, that repetition is an important theme of that first poem. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so scared after all:

giorgio agamben says that
in cinema
montage is made up of two processes     cutting
and repetition
it seems that giorgio agamben
is talking about poetry
i can dislocate this reading of giorgio agamben
(or cut)
and repeat to thinking about poetry
cut and repeat

gertrude stein says
that repetition does not exist
only insistence

Section 3, ‘Blind Light’ (my translation)

The book is full of references like this to literature and art: to poetry itself, to the novel, to philosophy, to academic critique. To cinema, especially (there are credits rolling on the last page with “locations” and “lighting by”). Early on in ‘Blind Light’, Garcia describes a scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (too long to quote here), where Ferdinand turns to the camera and speaks to the spectator. The poem pauses, repeats, describes again and speaks to the reader, before describing how Ferdinand speaks to the spectator. The reader perceives this being-spoken-to in duplicate. Cut and repeat.

Garcia is testing what poetry can do: the quotation above refers to film theory, feels more essayistic that lyric; some of the poems have reasonably long verse introductions. For a genre that began in medias res, these techniques don’t necessarily work in poetry. But here I think they do. Take the first few lines of ‘Blind Light’ (my translation again):

the beginning could take many forms
and this beginning could be a directionless motion still
that defines itself
during the journey
the beginning could specify time and space
context                  today is wednesday 27 november
and we are on the 3rd floor of the maria antonia university centre
i would also ask
in this case       who am i speaking to today?

In giving dates and locations—and not just in this poem—Garcia situates the poems in the contemporary world. But I think this goes further than merely location. It reflects our hyper-connected contemporaneity: the poem ‘o que é um começo (what is a beginning?)’ begins looking for a recipe for crêpes, but she stumbles across correspondence about translating one of her own poems that then evolves into wonder at language and how, in Portuguese, the verb “to close” can sometimes mean “to open”. This is a very internet-specific stream of consciousness, or perhaps more, the stream of acquiring disposable knowledge that we all experience as mediated by Wikipedia and Google. Indeed, the final poem includes a section of all the suggestions the Google throws up as the speaker types “poetry is a form of resistance”.

And this flow comes through in the poems’ form as well: no punctuation, no capitals, it pauses for breath at line breaks and gaps in lines, only stopping at the end of poems. Just as our lives are. It’s very much poetry of our everyday experience and our daily activities. It’s well worth looking out.

Marília Garcia, um teste de resistores (a test of resistors), 7Letras (Rio de Janeiro), 2014 (Buy it from 7Letras)

One Response to On a Test of Resistors

  1. Pingback: On a Test of Resistors | msamba

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