What is the real of Poetry?

Francisco Alvim | trans. John Keene

Where the law creates no obstacles

I lay down labyrinths


Nocturnal body

with your vicious moons

you wake unholy desire

you stab time


you hover

over my destiny

your dark circles beneath the eyes

your veins

you my body

my poor pathetic body

that blot out the sun

you bring dark cravings

that lead you to the corrupt

and death—

mirror in which I see myself:

dereliction’s obscure vessel


Corpo noturno

com tuas luas viciosas

acordas o desejo impuro

apunhalas o tiempo

o entendimento


sobre meu destino

tuas olheiras e veias

Tu meu corpo

meu pobre corpo soturno

que apagas o sol

trazes o escuro desejo

que te conduz ao corrupto

e à morte –

espelho em que me vejo:

jarro obscuro do abandono



This water is a desert

The world, a fantasy

The sea, its eyes wide open

devouring itself, blue

What is the real of poetry?



Esta água é um deserto

O mundo, uma fantasia

O mar, de olhos abertos

engolindo-se azul

Qual o real da poesia


Where the law creates no obstacles

I lay down labyrinths


Onde a lei não cria obstáculos

coloco labirintos


Francisco “Chico” Alvim (b. 1938) is a noted Brazilian poet and diplomat. A native of Araxá, Minas Gerais State, he made his literary debut in 1968 with the poetry collection Sol dos cegos, considered one of the key texts by the first generation of “post-vanguardist” poets. With his next collections, often published in mimeographed editions, and his participation in the group “Frenesi,” Alvim gained acclaim as one of the leading poets in what became known as the “Poesia marginal” movement of the 1970s, during the Brazilian military dictatorship. Some of the key tenets of Modernism and post-Modernism mark Alvim’s work: juxtapositions of the literary, anti-literary, and vernacular; brevity and simplicity of form; humor and subtle verbal play; and everyday subject matter. He has twice received Brazil’s prestigious Jabuti Prize, for his collections Passatempo e outros poemas (1981) and Poesias reunidas (1988). From 1969 through 1971, Alvim served as a secretary for the Brazilian delegation at the United Nations’ UNESCO, in Paris, and later was Brazilian Consul General in Barcelona (1995-1999) and Rotterdam (1999-2003), before he was named Brazil’s Ambassador to Costa Rica in 2003. He retired in 2008 and lives in Brasília.

John Keene’s books include Annotations (New Directions, 1995); Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015; Fitzcarraldo, 2016), winner of a 2016 American Book Award and the UK’s inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses in 2017; and several books of poetry. He is also the translator Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books/A Bolha Editora, 2014). He teaches African American and African Studies, English and creative writing at Rutgers University-Newark.

Copyright © Francisco Alvim, from Poemas (1968-2000), São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2004.
All translations by John Keene © 2012, 2018. All rights reserved.
Image: Installation view of Cildo Meireles. “Virtual Spaces.” 1967–68/2014. Wood, canvas, paint, and wood flooring, Galerie Lelong, New York. Photo: Elisa Wouk Almino

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