Foreign languages professor pens

UM is a research-based institution where professors work on new ideas in their field. Each Friday, we will highlight an area of research spearheaded by a university professor.

Glauco Mattoso, an anti-establishment Brazilian poet whose career dates to the late 1960s, fascinates Professor Steven Butterman.

“Mattoso’s poetry really subverts the conventions of heterosexuality,” Butterman said. “It deals with themes of being different. He was very much ahead of his time.”

Mattoso is still alive and he remains prolific, but in Butterman’s new book, Perversions on Parade, a specific section of the poet’s career is emphasized.

The focus is on Mattoso’s influence in an era of repressive dictatorship in Brazil. Through the 1980s, despite strict governmental censorship, he contributed to the gay and lesbian rights movement within Brazil.

Butterman’s work is the first book-length study of Mattoso to be written in English. He notes that Mattoso’s work is valuable not only to the study of literature, but also to fields such as political science, civil rights and other cultural studies. Butterman particularly appreciates the breadth of Mattoso’s work. He said also hopes to illuminate a poet whose career has been “under-studied and pushed away.”

Mattoso confronted a staid society through his poetry, Butterman said, by isolating and discussing themes which were “so repugnant to any reader, but particularly to literary critics and scholars.” He did not shy away from overtly sexual or even scatological themes, Butterman said, but instead confronted and questioned them.

“He was asking,” Butterman said, “why are these images considered graphic when they’re so human?”

According to Butterman, if Mattoso could de-stigmatize open discussion of natural bodily functions, then a manner of “true democracy” would follow in Brazil. It was by distilling humanity and discussing its basic operations that Mattoso argued for the fair treatment of gays and lesbians.

“No one’s shit smells better than anyone else’s,” Butterman said, underlining Mattoso’s assertion that humans are humans, no matter their sexual orientation.

Mattoso’s poetry indeed abandoned cultural norms, but Butterman said that his use of shocking themes was instrumental in advancing the equal rights movement within Brazil. Butterman colorfully refers to Mattoso’s style as “turd-world poetics.”

Interestingly, Butterman points out, Glauco Mattoso was only his pen name. The poet today is blind due to the effects of glaucoma, and he took the name years ago in recognition of the disease-Glauco Mattoso is glaucomatous. This off-beat detail alone perfectly exemplifies Mattoso, who Butterman describes as “a great punster.”

Aside from writing the book, Butterman has been working with University Librarian William Walker to bring to Otto G. Richter Library a rare collection of the underground alternative media that improbably thrived under Brazil’s dictatorship.

The large collection, which features publications of both Mattoso and his contemporaries, documents an otherwise undocumented movement, according to Walker.

“This is not the mainstream, sanitized history [of Brazil],” Walker said, echoing Butterman’s statement that “this is not your typical history book.”

Having completed his study of Mattoso, Butterman will continue to analyze the Brazilian culture that emerged under military dictatorship, focusing now on film that was suppressed at the height of the country’s censorship.

Hunter Umphrey can be contacted at