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Bruno Tolentino

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Dec 17, 2021

Bruno Lúcio de Carvalho Tolentino (12 November 1940 – 27 June 2007) was a Brazilian poet and intellectual, known for his opposition towards the more blatant avant-garde elements of Brazilian modernism,[1] his advocacy of classical forms and subjects in poetry, his loathing of popular culture and concrete poetry, and by his being hailed as one of the most important and influential intellectuals of his generation. His work was awarded the Prêmio Jabuti three times, in 1994, 2000 and 2007.

. . . Bruno Tolentino . . .

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Tolentino moved to Europe when he was 24 — something he later claimed to have done on the invitation of the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti — at the advent of the Military Regime in Brazil. This European stay would last some thirty years. Amongst what he claimed to be his many important relationships in the European cultural scene was the English poet W. H. Auden – although Auden, in the 1960s, had long left England and was living in the USA. Tolentino was co-editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry Now, whose title was inspired by W. H. Auden‘s entirely distinct 1920s magazine Oxford Poetry. All four issues of Oxford Poetry Now had James Lindesay as chief-editor.[2] Tolentino contributed to all four issues, and supported the magazine financially.

While in Europe, he published two books: Le Vrai Le Vain in 1971 and About the Hunt in 1978. Though published in France by La Part du Feu, an offprint of the magazine Actuels, Le Vrai Le Vain is absent from the Bibliothèque nationale de France integrated catalogue (as of 30 June 2010) and perhaps the only library catalogue in which it appears is that of the Albert Sloman Library of the University of Essex.[3] This is a bilingual volume with Portuguese on the left-hand page and French on the right-hand page. Similarly, although published in England, About the Hunt failed to receive a copyright and the work is absent from the British Library integrated catalogue as of June 17. 2010, although it is present in the Oxford OLIS online catalogue.[4] According to Tolentino’s later accounts, both books were acclaimed by European critics, including Ungaretti and Auden, as well as Yves Bonnefoy, Saint-John Perse and Jean Starobinski.[5]

Tolentino was an expert at self-mythologizing. Late in life multiple stories (of uncertain origin) about his life abounded, as claims that he had married Bertrand Russell‘s daughter, as well as René Char‘s and Rainer Maria Rilke‘s granddaughters, as well as about his being acquainted during his childhood with the most pre-eminent contemporary Brazilian men of letters in his family’s salon. According to an obituary written by literary scholar Chris Miller, Tolentino was a character “stranger than fiction”, and his claims about literary friendships were at least partially true (e.g. his friendship to Yves Bonnefroy); however, according to the same scholar, Tolentino’s exaggerations made it very difficult to tell truth from fiction.[6][7]

In an scathing account published in a history of Brazilian literature in the year of Tolentino’s death, his fellow-poet Alexei Bueno charged Tolentino with having faked his entire biography from the earliest date, beginning with “his manor house and his English private female tutors”: according to Bueno, Tolentino had been born “amid the most banal middle-class milieu from the neighbourhood of Tijuca, as the child of a military man, and had spent his teens in small apartments in the same neighbourhood and in Niterói“. According also to Bueno, during 1957, when still in Brazil, Tolentino had been involved in a case of plagiarism, having published a book of poetry whose title and poems were taken from others. His later self-attributed resounding intellectual feats abroad, as well as his alleged connections with European literary figures, were, according to the same Bueno, simply a hoax, as “in order to have lived all happenings he publicly boasted of, [Tolentino] should have lived nearly three hundred years”. Bueno, however, eventually downplayed what he saw as his mythomania by comparing him to the eminent filmmaker Mário Peixoto — who had put in circulation a bogus complimentary article on his work by Eisenstein — as well as acknowledging Tolentino’s talent as a satirical poet.[8]

Others critics have expressed similar doubts about the reality of Tolentino’s biographical claims,[9] such as being advised to write in English by Samuel Beckett, given the quality of his writing in Portuguese.[10] Some, such as the poet and critic Ivan Junqueira, do not consider the issues mentioned above as real cases of plagiarism and hoaxing in Tolentino’s career, highlighting instead his mastery of the art of pastiching the classics.[11]

. . . Bruno Tolentino . . .

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. . . Bruno Tolentino . . .