It took me a little time to decide where to place Bruno Neiva’s “Variação de Tisana 1, de Ana Hatherly” — Neiva’s direct response, using Google Sculpting, to the first short prose piece of Ana Hatherly’s Tisanas. Hatherly’s first 39 Tisanas were published in 1969 [unknown publisher], with subsequent additions, such as 63 Tisanas (40-102 Lisboa : Moraes Editores), published in 1973; 351 Tisanas (Lisboa : Quimera) in 1997; Tisanas (Parallel German translation by Elfriede Engelmayer. Berlin : Edition Tranvía : Verlag Walter Frey) in 1998, and 463 Tisanas (Lisbon : Quimera) in 2006.
Hatherly’s work expands into and through multiple, often combinatory, fields, such as experimental poetry/poetics, translations, film, essays, cinema/performance, and visual arts. The University of Berkeley, where she completed her PhD in 1986, hosts an online bibliography to their holdings of her poetry, prose, visual art, essays, and scholarship, noting that the process of digitizing her work is in development. Arquivo Digital da Po.Ex [PO.EX Digital Archive] offers an entry point to Po.Ex, including some of Hatherly’s work, in addition to work of other Portuguese experimental poets. Neiva notes Po.Ex was not a “movement per se, but rather a loose group of poets interested in experimentations.” (Neiva, email Nov. 2022).The Arquivo Digital da Po.Ex describes Po.Ex as “an acronym of POesia.EXperimental [EXperimental.POetry] created by E. M. de Melo e Castro for the exhibit PO.EX/80 (National Gallery of Modern Art, Lisbon) and used in the title of the book ‘PO.EX: Theoretical Texts and Documents of the Portuguese Experimental Poetry’ (org. E. M. de Melo e Castro & Ana Hatherly, 1981); Poesia Experimental [Experimental Poetry] is the title of a magazine organized by António Aragão & Herberto Helder (Number 1, 1964) and António Aragão, E. M. de Melo e Castro & Herberto Helder (Number 2, 1966). Po-ex.net is the web domain created for the study and dissemination of PO.EX (2005).”
There are various websites and academic articles, or brief biographies, of Hatherly and her work. These include an article by Maria Luísa Coelho through the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing at the The Institute of Language, Cultures and Societies. In her role as an academic, Hatherly founded the Institute of Portuguese Studies at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Of her own work, Hatherly positions her early experimental work a necessary, and initial, response to literary and social conditions within Portugal and elsewhere.
Her poetics, philosophies, and artistic agency — and her thoughts on the development of an avante-garde in Portugal (and direct involvement) — are widely available in Portuguese (some accessible in English), within collections, books, and video/film, and online. Images and access to versions of curated exhibits of her work are also available. For example, The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, presented an exhibit that is both a tribute to her art and her academic specialization in the Baroque: “Ana Hatherly and the Baroque: In a Garden Made of Ink”. In is exhibit-essay, the curator, Paulo Pires do Vale, notes:
“There are as many entrances to this building as there were multiple declinations in Ana Hatherly’s work: essays and academic research; poetry and prose; drawings, re-collages, performances, films, television programmes… A labyrinth where everything revolves around the writing, as she said. That garden made from ink, where the artist reinvents the world walking among signs…”
I planted Hatherly’s “Texto Original” and Neiva’s response in a small grove within a section of managed forest that is comprised of various coniferous (cedar, pines) trees, is bordered by maple, oak, birch, and ash, contains an ephemeral pond and a running marsh, and has a number of shagbark hickory in a loose ‘stand’ structure. While the management component of the space is obvious, much of the edge/verge has rewilded, and the trees and their understory are mature. Its resonance (visual and sonic) is unique. The light has depth, informed by light filtering that decomposing needles, tree cover and bark, and earth generates. Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of bird species (wood ducks, hawks and owls, songbirds), foragers and hunters (coyotes, weasels, porcupines, fox), and mid-low growing plants, esp. at the edge, or light breaks (winterberry, aster, false solomon’s seal, etc.) cross and inhabit this grove. The two ephemeral ponds are mostly dry this fall, but in the spring they had been colonized by Saggilarium and pond weed; two wood ducks regularly perched on an eastern hemlock at the edge of the larger pond, from which they hunted for frogs or nesting sites. Culturally, this area is within unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Anishinaabeg, with Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, and Mohawk peoples also integral to land relations in the region.
Erratic bits of sheep fencing borders another small edge pond and this fencing curls at/into the base of a tree; another strand lies-half-under-and-also-along the soft needle mulch that makes up the forest floor. The fencing is difficult to see. There’s also a remnant-dump in a small overgrown field beside the forest. I suspect the field is actually a built up farm-material waste site, as it leads to a shallow slope with metal and other bits sticking out of it.
Neiva’s “Variação de Tisana 1, de Ana Hatherly” is aligned along a deadfall that is situated at an angle to the ground. The pieces abut a moveable section of bark that has remained in place only because its form, which grew as the tree grew, retains its own curved shape. A person could slide the bark along the wood or lift it off. Behind/in front of the deadfall is a hollowing oak with two holes in it. Neiva’s variation is both image and text; the blurring of these components of viewing/reading encourages interpretation as well as enhances the variables that underly expectations of clearly defined meaning. The paper, which is seed paper that I have used before for other rout/e projects (Phill Hall’s “Failure” the most recent), is materially intertextual; it comes apart, becomes lined, fosters unforeseen marks and, inevitably, has the effect of engendering a constantly varying text/image. Bruno Neiva’s work is partially shaped by readability over time — as any work is — but in the the space of the forest, it is both a literary micro-prose piece and an image-text, partially because the surface of the plexiglass and the physics of lightwaves. Should someone come upon, and read Hatherly’s “Text Original” and Neiva’s “Variação de Tisana 1, de Ana Hatherly”, readability (and any actions as a reader) will be influenced by whether or not the person can translate written Portuguese, and whether Neiva’s response will retain its initial clarities/forms, given the realities of the forest and its atmospheres, on material, marks and word-shapes. Multiple translations have potencies in their blends of mark and interpretation.
Hatherly was concerned with readability of text and text-image — the possibilities of pluralities of readings. Her “Short Essay: A Technology of Fascination” (Po:Ex: Essays from Portugal on Cyberliterature and Intermedia. Ed. Rui Torres and Sandy Baldwin. (West Virginia University Press, 2014)) describes the trajectories of concrete and visual poetry in Portugal as an evolution influenced by difference: Mallarmé, Bense, Gomringer, and also the Noigandres Group in Brazil. She reflects on her own work in relation to challenging what concrete and visual poetry could do — that one function it serves is to widen ‘…the scope of reading beyond traditional literary boundaries” — and for Hatherly this edges into what constitutes non-readability.
“….By drawing attention towards writing as sign drawing or painting (making it non-readable to evict the habit of content reading), I was attempting to restore the original force of writing: semiotic, iconic, autonomously semantic. I was trying to do the following:
- To think on the problem of readability or non-readability of text as proper to the writer, who constantly faces the issue of writing that ciphers and deciphers
- To ponder on the degree of readability (or intelligibility) of a text, or even on the influence of time over a text’s readability, or the wearing out of language that does not just match the wearing-out of the successive ideologies that use it but also recreate it.
Specifically, to ponder on readability is to attempt to evaluate to what extent results from the limitations imposed by a code in which the relationship between sender and receiver regulates its own readability. The possible degree of message communicability and deciphering is the real problem of reading.” (Ana Hatherly, Po:Ex: Essays from Portugal on Cyberliterature and Intermedia, 60).
Neiva’s version extends a method that Hatherly used — offering a written variation to a piece of writing by another author (e.g. Camões, Joyce). So how does someone interpret Bruno Neiva’s variation of Hatherly’s first Tisana? Or how does one interpret Hatherly’s first Tisana through Neiva or through forest-and-deadfall-and-outdoor-resonances? From what ambiguities, contradictions, notions of non-and-readability, and disintegration does work become reinvented and emergent? To what effects? Or who is affected?