Hélio Oiticica: Secret Poetics

​Translated by Rebecca Kosick from Portuguese
Introduction by Rebecca Kosick; Afterword by Pedro Erber

Between 1964 and 1966, in the first years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Hélio Oiticica wrote a series of lyrical poems, entitled Secret Poetics, and reflected in a private notebook on their significance for his artistic practice. Despite his global fame as a founder of the interdisciplinary movement known as neoconcretismo, his collaborations with major Brazilian artists and writers (Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Ferreira Gullar, etc.), and his influence across a range of disciplines (including painting, film, installation, and participatory art), Oiticica’s “secret” poems are almost unknown and have never been published as a collection. This edition, which features the original texts in facsimile reproductions along with English translations and accompanying essays by translator Rebecca Kosick and critic Pedro Erber, uncovers the significance of poetry to Oiticica’s thinking on participation, sensation, and memory. 

Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) is among twentieth-century Brazil’s most significant artists, with a multifaceted practice that included painting, sculpture, installation, performance, filmmaking, and writing. Oiticica was a leading member of the Grupo Frente of concrete artists and, in 1959, co-founded the neoconcrete movement with artists and poets including Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Ferreira Gullar. Oiticica was a 1970 Guggenheim Fellow and today his work is held in collections across the world, including at MoMA and the Tate Modern.

Rebecca Kosick is a poet, translator, and co-director of the Bristol Poetry Institute at the University of Bristol (UK) where she is also Senior Lecturer in Comparative Poetry and Poetics. Kosick is the author of the monograph Material Poetics in Hemispheric America (Edinburgh) and the poetry collection Labor Day (Golias Books), and her poems and translations have appeared in literary venues such as The Recluse, Fence, and The Iowa Review. She was born in Michigan.

Pedro Erber is Professor of Comparative Literature at Waseda University, Senior Research Associate at Cornell University, and Editor of ARTMargins. He is the author of Breaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan (UC Press, 2015).


Poetry is everywhere in Oiticica’s writings and multisensorial participatory art: from minimal poems on objects in the mazelike Tropicália (1967), to recordings of Haroldo de Campos and Gertrude Stein playing inside the penetrable installation Filter Penetrable (1972), to Oiticica’s own phrases printed on wearable Parangolés and banners. His iconic “seja marginal, seja herói” became the counterculture’s cri de coeur during Brazil’s military dictatorship. As this elegant volume reminds us, the experience of language as an event is key to the not-so-secret poetics Oiticica’s work so staunchly enacts. —Mónica de la Torre

  Penned during the crucial years of Oiticica’s artistic and personal coming-of-age, these secret poems reveal a lyrical and intimate counterpoint to the transgressive interventions the artist staged in public during this same period. They attest to Oiticica’s lifelong investment in poetry and the materiality of language, here rendered with the tenderness and limpidity of fleeting diaristic impressions. —Irene V. Small

That Hélio Oiticica had a keen awareness of language was made clear early on in his career when he titled objects after astronomical phenomena (Bólides), or else recycled Brazilian slang into complex art concepts (Parangolés). As this book reveals, Oiticica was interested in language as early as 1964—a discovery that will undoubtedly lead Oiticica scholars to reevaluate established perceptions of his development as an artist. —Antonio Sergio Bessa

“By bringing non-Portuguese speaking readers as close as possible to experiencing the original, Kosick reveals to the anglophone public a poetic cycle that is truly one-of-a-kind.”— Sofija Popovska, Asympotote Journal

"This brief collection of hand-written poems and accompanying artworks uses language as an entry point into the late sculptor’s practice and spirit."—Lakshi Amin, Hyperallergic

"Each poem insists on the immediacy of the now and the here" —Janani Ambikapathy, Harriet Books

"Secret Poetics provides an illuminating window into a celebrated artist’s early poetry, all impressions and obsessions apparent and intact. This is a collection not to be missed." —Tiffany Troy, Los Angeles Review

"This book is chiefly about better understanding the artistic framework and thinking of one of the leading Brazilian artists of the twentieth century, and in this, the book definitively hits the mark." —Elizabeth Zuba, The Brooklyn Rail

"This is a book I will read again and again, to discover nuances of meaning and to inspire my own thought."—Dana Delibovi, Cable Street

"Art, poetry, and theory all in one spot! Gorgeous little book.” --Evie Bauer (Papercuts Bookstore, Boston), quoted in The Boston Globe