Disdaining personal revelation and sentimental vision in favor of hard, objective reality, João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920-1999) built poems the way an architect erects buildings or an engineer makes bridges. The realities that provided his building materials were the drought-stricken lands of his native northeastern Brazil and the countries—especially Spain—where he served as a career diplomat. Some of his poems are socially engaged, but they present squalor, desperation, and injustice without comment or obvious compassion, while other poems pay homage to such unpoetic subjects as chewing-gum and aspirin. Images, in either case, are reduced to their basic structural lines and tightly organized into a kind of poem-machine that functions as if on its own, without any intrusion from the poet.
The compressed wry clarities of this great poet find an active voice in these exceptionally perceptive translations. It matters that one understand "the original" beyond the seeming simplicity of its words. Richard Zenith does, altogether.
— Robert Creeley
This superb selection of João Cabral de Melo Neto's poems is indeed, in the words of the title, an "Education by Stone." Like Francis Ponge and William Carlos Williams, Cabral is a poet of thingness; he observes the seemingly trivial and intransigent, transforming "stone" into something rich, strange—and often very sexy. Richard Zenith's excellent translation captures Cabral's unique—and surprising—poetic landscape in all its nuances and thus provides new access to a major Brazilian poet.
— Marjorie Perloff
João Cabral de Melo Neto is one of Brazil’s most acclaimed poets . . . From his early days, Mr. Cabral has written poems that are marked by a captivating use of simple language. Avoiding ceremony and circumstance, they follow centuries-old paths rather than struggle to break new ground.
— The New York Times Book Review