Saturday, 31 May 2014

Portuguese-Language African Literature Month: the wrap-up post

Portuguese-Language African Literature Month is over. I hope you enjoyed it and derived some use from it. It was my attention to bring attention to several writers who are not yet, or could be better, known in the English-speaking world. I mixed new writers with the old generations, men and women, fiction and non-fiction, in order to provide a wide picture. I apologize to those who think this turned into a poetry event; I confess I preferred the poets to the prose writers.

With this selection of writers I don’t want you to assume that these are the essential or more important authors. I could certainly have organised this event with many different combinations. There are other writers I could have written about: Germano Almeida, Ondjaki, João Melo, Filinto de Barros, Lília Momplé, Aida Gomes, Carlos Lopes, Luandino Vieira, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa, Luís Bernardo Honwana, Baltasar Lopes, to name but a few. Time, opportunity, availability and money were the principal conditions that shaped my final list. Some, like Pepetela, were old pleasures, whereas Arménio Vieira and João Vário, to name only two, were wonderful new discoveries, and certainly it won’t be the last time you read about them in this blog.

I tried to be fair to all five countries on my list – Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe – but it was hard, sometimes almost impossible, to find representatives for some of them. Angola and Mozambique, being the richest, most developed countries of the list, it’s no surprise that they also have a more fertile literary production and that it’s easier to find their books in Portugal. Angola, I’d go so far as to say, for the richness of its literature, in poetry, novel, short-story and even non-fiction, gives me the impression of being the literary centre of Portuguese-language Africa. Even so, I had great fun reading from this heterogeneous and surprising group of countries.

After a frantic and tightly-paced month, though, I need a break and I admit it’s a relief to go back to a laxer schedule next week. And it comes in good time, because Lisbon Book Fair started two days ago and I’ll be busy going there almost every night to buy books.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Arménio Vieira has fun with poetry

After my unfortunate experience with Arménio Vieira’s novel, No Inferno, it seemed to me that I should at least try his poetry, since the praise he’s earned has come from his poetic career. I’m glad I did because I discovered some very good poems. There are two qualities I liked about them: first of all, they had a cosmopolitan, bookish spirit; of all the poets I’ve read for this project, no one revelled in inter-textuality with more intensity than him. His poems start at Dante and Camões, Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and the surrealists too. And from André Breton’s merry circle of pranksters he obviously inherited irreverence for classicism and stuffy literary authority. Incapable of kneeling in adoration of ancient idols, his references come up like guillotines to cut their targets down to size with gentle mockery. For that reason, no other poet had me laughing as hard like Vieira. As I may have written before, I like a poet that makes me laugh.

I consulted the three books of poetry currently available in Portugal: O Poema, a Viagem, o Sonho; MITOgrafias; and Poemas. Although he received the Camões Prize in 2009, publishers have been slow to promote his work here. Of the three books, MITOgrafias was the most thrilling and whimsical to me, and so I got all the following poems from it.


With small matches
You can build a poem.

But beware: the use of glue
Would ruin your poem.

Don’t tremble: your heart,
Even more than your hand,
Can betray you. Watch out!

A poem like this is hard.
Without glue and vertical,
It can take an eternity.

When it’s concluded,
Doesn’t sign it, it isn’t your poem.


When a man dies,
The resulting silence,
Being not of a song
That reaches its end,
Nor of night
Falling over a village

And having nothing to do
With the silence preceding the instant
When the stonemason hammers the stone,
Find its symbol only,
(never its face, its full picture)
In somebody’s mask
Whose hand (contrary to the hammer)
Prefers the muteness
Found in the rope

Given that the trade
Of whoever lowers the coffin
Is owed to fate
(more than to will),
Let’s say that the man
Whose face is veiled
Can do nothing against the word,
Its oath,
Which, solemn and sealed,
Is fulfilled in silence.


If ruin is to come,
Let it come by airplane. It’ll be
Just one more, I’m used to it.
In any event, if elephants,
Like redskins, live in reserves,
It’s not my fault,
I didn’t produce the apple
Adam screwed himself with.
As far as I know, I was never in paradise.
When they killed Christ it wasn’t me
The prefect in Rome. Who said
I used napalm in my fights?
Who said I was in France
During the bloody night of the Huguenots?
In 1939-45 I was in diapers
And sucked my finger. At Nuremberg
I wasn’t mentioned, no one gave
Me the rope. Not guilty!


It’s them, the shadows.
They were women, a long time ago.

Cool, they came,
Like morning roses.
From carnations they had the colour
Carnations tend to have
When seagulls return.

They were brides offering themselves,
The sweetest of fruits
Between the tongue and the palate.

One after another they came,
Red and sonorous
In their perfumed robes.

Look at them now. In black,
Silent, like a puddle,
They used to be rivers.

They’re not brides, they sing no more.
It’s them, the shadows.


I know eternity: it’s pure orgasm.
How so, my dear Drummond,
If what follows semen
Are the leftovers of an orange
Cut in half, being that
One of the halves is only rind
Resembling the skin mummies
Tend to have, while the half
That insists in staying round
Is only the half of a geometry
That used to be sweetness and pulp,
Now bitter and more murderous than knife,
Next to which it lies, definitely shrunken,
Since the flies themselves, scared, flee.


Arma virumque cano… Now let’s
Cut the crap! These verses were written
In the past, when Aeneas and Ulysses,
In little paper ships, pulled out eyes from
The Cyclopes, laughing under Neptune’s
Nose, a king in glasses and cane
Needing Viagra. Ezra Pound,
Cow-boy and poet, wanted to resurrect.
Thinking of whom? It was clear
Not Mussolini. He was a fat little dwarf,
Similar to the ones found in circuses
Amusing the kids. Between a critter
Like that and a man called Achilles
The distance was a league.
Canto l’arme pietose e ‘l capitano…
Let’s cut the crap! We, most
Of the times, are tigers pretending
To be bears. Arms and the heroes…
That was in the past, when the Lusos
Laughed at Bacchus’ expenses, king
Without merit, wine drinker.


Next to the place where the
Legend of a pyromaniac god started
Who hurls and vomits laws, there’s the Red
Sea, which isn’t red anymore
Nor blue, for the sea was only blue
When Ulysses heard the song
Of the sirens and stopped being red
When Teach, the pirate,
Gave the Devil the ribbons he
He dressed his beard with It’s an expression,
For the sea, in fact, was never
Blue nor red.



He declared war on the comma. The Kaiser
Declared war on the French.
Russia declared war on I don’t remember
Whom. In 1914-1918 they were all
Fighting. Europe seemed like a mushroom
Plantation, you only saw steel helmets.
Apollinaire said goodbye to Calligrammes
And boarded a train full of recruits.
We don’t know how many commas
Died in the Great War.
Apollinaire didn’t kill any,
He’s the one who died.


In 1914-18, ladies
Didn’t go to war, they stayed
At home taking care of children.
In that case, why didn’t you ask
Your grandma to loan you
A black dress and a silk
Hat? If death were to kill you
For real, at least you could
Have died without having to kill anyone.
In this pandemonium of comets
And drums it’s normal that you
Were deaf. Even if I shouted,
How would you hear that a silk
Hat is worth a thousand steel
Helmets, that the trenches
Are only good for moles?


If there’s a bird
In the soul of every poet,
In Baudelaire there were three:
A raven, obviously dark,
A swallow dying of tedium
And an albatross – three
Despairing birds, which one
The most atrocious?


A butterfly called poetry
Flew like no bird
Had done it. Still stuck in
Its cocoon, it invented
Colours for vowels.
A thousand times illuminated,
A thousand times tormented,
He lost his leg at the age of 37,
He was 19 when he died.


In fact Rimbaud was a seer:
Voici le temps des assassins.
The guys, that is, Breton,
And the crew went out
And shot at the crowd.
The cops didn’t give a damn,
It was just poetic freedom.
In 68, month of May, De Gaulle
Hit the roof. It was surrealism
De pacotille, it cost three pennies.

And finally a poem about Hell. Obviously the novel No Inferno was no fluke; he clearly likes this topic:


Hell, as it is described
In certain books, with terrible
Coloured pictures, nobody
Believes it, clown routines
To amuse folks. Even love
Which was once hell, when Petrarch
And Dante saw Beatriz and Laura in bed
With other guys – if they didn’t,
Then they heard – even lost love,
So close to Paradise after all
While the illusion persisted that a kiss
Is an exorcism capable of scaring
The exterminating angel, even that,
Is an excellent hell for newspapers.
It’s boring like hell, it makes one weep
Sometimes and then it’s thrown out, painless.
There are those who find treasures weeping.
Others see themselves beautiful
Princes even, fairy-tales read asleep.
And yet there serious hells,
Frightening, like the wind, cyclonic,
They don’t fit in books, nobody paints them.

I hope you enjoyed these poems as much as I did. I tried to save the best for last. This is the last post of the Portuguese-Language African Literature Month. Be here tomorrow for the wrap-up post.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Arménio Vieira writes a zombie novel

Arménio Vieira (b. 1941) was born in Praia and is a Cape Verdean journalist, poet and novelist. He belongs to a generation of Cape Verdean writers who rose to maturity during the 1960s, that is, while the colonial wars that were raging through all the former Portuguese colonies. He also contributed for many Cape Verdean and Portuguese magazines and newspapers. In 2009 he received the Camões Prize, awarded to Portuguese-language writers for their oeuvre. Speaking about the decision, he declared himself happy but surprised given that Cape Verde is not a major country. “It’s small in relation to the immenseness of Brazil, which has hundreds of great writers. And Portugal too. It’d have been too difficult for Cape Verde to grab the award.” Nevertheless he became the first Cape Verdean to receive this honour. 

Although he’s mainly famous for his poetry, we’ll leave it for the final post. Vieira is also a prose writer and has written a novella and a novel. No Inferno was written in 1999. The alluring title captivated me; I’m a sucker for literature that deals with the concept of hell, like The Third Policeman and No Exit. A few years ago I read my first Cape Verdean novel and felt disappointed. I thought that the novel was too conventional. Although I didn’t fall in love with Vieira’s novel, at least I can’t accuse it of conventionality. No Inferno is as post-modern as it gets, it’s so inter-textual it induces nausea and is full of screaming meta-fiction. It’s a novel written by a novelist who thinks the novel is dead, making this a sort of zombie novel. For Vieira, the novel reached its apogee with James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and there’s nothing else to do afterwards. To him, the last three greats were Flaubert, Joyce and Borges; “the last of the great fiction writers,” he says apropos of Borges, “preferred not to write novels but to elaborate instead synopses of hypothetical novels and comment them.” Well, saying that the novel is dead will not endear him to me, considering most of my favourite novelists came after dull Joyce, not to mention No Inferno is a trifle compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. Vieira certainly has a comical imagination that serves him well when he’s weaving his absurdist poems; but when he attempts to write prose, every line comes unpolished, simplistic and loaded with stock phrases. I’ve seldom read a novel so devoid of aesthetic beauty, so embracing of total linguistic banality and carelessness. It’s like a novel written by a man who never heard of ostranenie, which is horrifying to imagine in a poet. In spite of the repulsion the novel provokes in me, I’ll attempt to explain what it is about.

The author explains in a note that he wanted to give the protagonist a mystery to solve, “that of his own identity.” And so he puts him, amnesic, on an island, locked in a house, filled with books. A mysterious warden explains to him the unusual conditions of release: he must finish a good novel in order to learn his identity and regain his freedom. It’s like a precursor of Old Boy and Lost. But our protagonist opts not to write a novel and instead writes short-stories that jump around from idea to idea, without nexus. And this allows him to shift genres, mock styles and pay lots of homages to past writers. Only towards the end does he reveal his debt to Lawrence Sterne. “Reader, convince yourself once and for all that this fiction is not like the others. It is crazy, it doesn’t make sense. At least I advise you to suspend its reading right now, unless you’ve read from start to finish Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy.” You see, the joke is that the advice comes before the final pages, so it’s too late to stop reading. Ha ha, get it?

I dislike Sterne too.

The novel starts with a prologue where a fan of a poet meets him in Cape Verde, where he’s writing a novel on order for an admirer. “I was astonished: it was hard to believe someone could still give money to poets,” the fan says. But the poet isn’t thrilled because the job is a bore and he’s not a novelist. Next they have a conversation about James Joyce and the death of the novel, and the poet gives the fan the manuscript to read. And I don’t know if the novel the fan is reading is the manuscript, but things get very unhinged next. We start with Leopold Bloom leaving his house to buy livers only to die stabbed in the guts by a butcher after he makes a faux pas at the butcher’s shop. Then Leopold, or someone with that name, wakes up in a room decorated with infernal and demonic motifs. Incidentally, Leopold dreaming where he goes buy livers and dies in some horrible way becomes a sort of recurrent joke in the novel; another time he’s turned into a rat that is devoured by cats. Anyway, Leopold wakes up from his first dream. He’s amnesic and disorientated. He leaves the room and stops being Leopold and becomes Robinson, “for it’s time for the character to change his name.” And because he’s Robinson, he must of course be on an island, from where he can’t get out. He discovers a recorded message telling him that he’s there to write a novel, and if it’s good, he’ll be released and his memory will be returned to him. He also has the option of trying to find the combination to a series of lockers that could grant him freedom, but the recording estimates that that would take forty years. Writing a novel is easier and faster, unless you’re William H. Gass. In order to help him write his novel, “for only readers write,” the mysterious warden has a huge library with a telling selection: The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, the short-stories of Edgar Allen Poe, The Songs of Maldoror, The Book of Job, The Book of Disquiet, Goethe’s Faust, A Season in Hell, The Flowers of Evil, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka’s The Trial and The Metamorphosis, Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, Waiting for Godot, The Waste Land, Journey to the End of the Night, 120 Days of Sodom, and more. In other words, books about evil, entrapment, death and hell, in its traditional or metaphorical sense. The author’s cards are showing, though, because he doesn’t list the most obvious one, Sartre’s No Exit. Anxiety of influence?

But the recording doesn’t take into account the fact that Robinson may prefer to stay on the island. “Who did he wish to see? Nobody. Who or what place could he miss? Nobody, nothing.” And he’s taken care of in the house, he has everything he needs. “Could the outside world offer attractive motives that made him want to abandon a house that so far had been his shelter and where he lived in complete tranquillity? Wouldn’t that old mansion be the possible paradise?” But he needs a comparison from the outside world to make up his mind. So he watches the tapes on the island containing the horrors of history and the modern world: wars, drug traffic, sexual exploitation, hunger, epidemics. “Yep, this is enough to evaluate some things. It seems I’m far better here.” But he fears running out of food and energy and dying in that fortified mansion, so he continues to search for a way out. He even worries about running out of toilet paper and wondering if he has the courage to use the books to wipe his ass. Vieira is really making it hard for me to like him.

After making sure there’s no way out, he resigns himself to writing a novel; so he starts reading the library, making a new discovery: he’s read them all and he has memories of them, in fact he knows them all by heart, he just can’t remember anything about his own life. And there’s another problem: he can’t write a novel; instead he writes short-stories that don’t add up to anything. And this is when the novel gets all loopy. There are parodies of many genres and writers. There are allusions to detective novels, Proust, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Kafka, and Coleridge, just to name a few. It mixes prose with poetry and theatre. There are pastiches of The Castle and Hemingway’s “The Killers.” There are also autobiographical allusions to the author’s life, as he explains in the note.

There are certainly other novels with similar structures, for instance Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. This is a novel on the crossroads between Modernism and Post-Modernist: on the one hand it declares that there’s nothing original anymore, things can only be recombined and rewritten, old myths in new ways; that’s why he invokes Joyce and Borges. “That overload of books in his memory, instead of helping him, perhaps harmed him,” the narrator says about the protagonist’s inability to write a novel. Is that why he fails to write it? Are we held prisoners to influence and history, do they stop us from doing anything new? It’s possible to discuss it, but I do not think they do. On the other hand, the novel is full of post-modernism’s irony and self-awareness, worst, there’s a streak of self-congratulation to it that puts me off: at the same time the author decries originality he thinks he’s really making something so radically bizarre and out of the ordinary here, although I don’t think his achievements have a lot more merit than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

There’s a final problem, the biggest one to me: the fact that the author puts explanatory footnotes in every allusion and reference he makes. Now I did not like Lawrence Sterne’s novel a single bit, it’s not my idea of novel, but I’ll say something in its defence: whatever my limitations to appreciate it, at least the good reverend had enough faith in me to let me wonder through that hodgepodge of a novel without help. Vieira, I’m shocked to write it, thinks the reader is so dense he can’t get a reference to The Castle without a footnote telling him The Castle was written by one Franz Kafka. Seriously, are you kidding me? And he doesn’t do this once or twice, there are dozens of such idiotic footnotes, for Robinson Crusoe, for The Trial, for Pierre Menard, for Hemingway. It’s a novel written by a man who’s read a lot and thinks his reader has read nothing. It’s embarrassing, to him.

Fortunately he doesn’t bully novels in his poetry, which is far more interesting too.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Corsino Fortes sings the people of Cape Verde

Corsino Fortes (b. 1933) was born in São Vicente and is a Cape Verdean poet and politician. He finished his Law degree at the University of Lisbon in 1966 and has served his country as ambassador to Portugal and in other governmental functions. His poet oeuvre, from what I’ve managed to discover, boils down to a trilogy called A Cabeça Calva de Deus, composed of Pão & Fonema (1974), Árvore & Tambor (1986) and Pedras de Sol & Substância (2001). The trilogy, as far as I can understand it, is a nationalistic epic: it’s the odyssey of Cape Verde’s people, a look at its history, a defence of its language (part of it is written in Creole, a revolutionary decision at the time), an attempt at explaining what Cape Verdean identity is, and a lament for the tragedy of emigration in a small nation that is devoid of resources and hope. Of the three Cape Verdean poets I discovered, Corsino Fortes was my least favourite. João Vário is grave transcendental, and Arménio Vieira, the subject of a future post, is irreverent and comical. But Fortes doesn’t have a particular feature that endeared him to me. I read it thinking I was missing something, a key to unlock it. Most of it just went over my head and seems written, well, for Cape Verdeans, who can certainly understand the esoteric references, impenetrable to an outsider like me. At this point I think it’s permissible to argue that there are two poetic lines in Africa: one that looks inward, concerned with national topics; and another that looks outward, cosmopolitan in outlook. Conceição Lima, José Craveirinha and Corsino Fortes belong to the former; João Vário, Mia Couto and the forthcoming Arménio Vieira, to the latter. I confess that I prefer and understand the cosmopolitans more, because they’re more accessible, universal if you will. Fortunately, almost 300 pages of poetry eventually yielded a few poems I genuinely enjoyed, culled from the larger odes and cantos that form the trilogy (these Cape Verdean poets seem to have a tasting for the long form), show that Fortes, although not to my liking, does have considerable poetic talent:


Poet! the whole poem:
            Blood geometry & phoneme
Listen Listen

A top spins
            Fruit trees
                        At mid-day

And drums
                  On the hill

A heart of scattered dirt

And f far
From the surge to the cold viola
            I recognize the bemolle
Of the domestic hand
                        That sings

Sea & monsoon sea and & marriage
Bread stone foot of earth
            Bread & patrimony


Before morning
                        She went
From bay to bay
            In the uterus of things
            The uterine voice of ships

On the island
My mother is a naked island
Around December tearing
            Her calico winter


My lungs dry
            In them
                        The forest’s wood is born
From sun to sun
                        My bones are green
                        Your bones are plants
Like bread-fruit the drum and the ground

From sun to sun
            I shouted for Rimbaud or Mayakovsky
                        Leave me alone


When the island is priest
                        And the sea cathedral
And sunset!      Prayer
            That rises
In the sea         And its fish school
The hook approaches service
Like the palate
                        Between the wafer and communion

And the bow says to the seventh wave

Between the fish and the fisherman
There is no better bait
                        Than the beating heart


Your son’s face screams over the sea
Like dead pots like living pots

                                        In the faint oven

Silent mortars faint ovens
In the volcano and in the viola of your heart

The people’s mouth in the fire of our faint ovens

People’s ground stone ground!
The sun boils the sun in your blood
And boils the blood in my breast
Like the fire and the stone in the Fire volcano

From sun to sun
                        You opened your mouth


Every evening sunset bends
Your thumb over the island
And from sunset to thumb
            A progress of dead stone
Which the Peninsula
            Still drinks
From the cup of colony
All the blood from your pilgrim body

But when your voice
            Is wave on the beach’s violin
And the face’s earth And the earth’s face
            Stretches the palm of its hand
From the island’s sea rim
            Of bread & bread made
You’ll add your final hunger
            To your first hunger

From on high will come
            Thus the grass thus mercury
Will pull the crosses from your body


That the land is flesh!
                        Now and forever
Already the child speak of it to us
                        Devouring it
            The earth of scars
            The earth that heals
                        And not always
The dust Which blood irrigates
Or earth woven
                        Into the compass
But the earth!
            A batter mix of earth
                        Which blood drinks
And the child says
            “in the wound: saliva and red earth”
And never
            Earth brought
                        On the shoe
But the mould of earth
            Which a bellybutton devours

Archipelago Books, by the way, is releasing the Selected Poems of Corsino Fortes this Fall, so you can find out for yourselves if this poet is for you. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

João Vário writes examplary poetry

João Vário (1937-2007) was a Cape Verdean poet and one of the most interesting authors I discovered for this project. He studied neuroscience in Portugal and Belgium and the bulk of his career consumed by a titanic endeavour called Exemplos, a nine-volume attempt at creating a poetic system that synthesised his ideas about art and man, life and death, time and God. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were strong influences, and there’s clearly a bit of The Cantos in these cantos and odes. Of all the African poets I’ve showcased so far, he’s one of the most cosmopolitan, in the sense that he’s conversant with world poetry and abstains from commenting directly on African history, colonialism and the post-independence period, favouring universal, more spiritual themes. At the time of his death, he was considered one of the greatest Portuguese-language African poets but he was also practically unknown in Portugal. Just by chance I discovered that the collected edition of Exemplos had been published in 2013, and I gave it a try; the poems, huge cantos and odes, are remarkable for their complexity and density, but not appropriate for a blog post. So I looked around in the National Library and discovered a 1958 book, perhaps from the time he studied at the University of Coimbra, called Horas sem Carne that had easier poems, and which the author repudiated. Nevertheless I find many of them extraordinary. Between these books very little by him was published here, but hopefully that will change. So this post is a collection of both books.

From Horas sem Carne (1958):


Don’t ask me to love you:
Love me
And break your nature
In the perverse voluptuousness of sex.
Don’t ask me to show you God:
See the flower
And wonder at the body’s mystical beauty
That its pollen envelopes.
Don’t ask me for mystery, nor truth, nor grace:
Look at our naked bodies
And relieve your parents,
Your grandparents,
Know your future children,
And lift on your thirsty fingers
The vital law
Of generations.
Why do you ask me your future days?
Why do you ask me the death of years?
Why do you ask me the promise of the wheat fields?
Why do you ask me moonlight,
A stream,
A forest,
A landscape?
No, don’t ask me anything!
You don’t need to ask me anything:
God is yours
The universe is yours,
It’s yours the birds’ voice,
The flower that springs in the moon’s silky hair
The sea’s necessary audacity
The peace of the lakes.
It’s yours the simplicity of authentic mornings,
The promise of the dew’s renovation,
The blue fantasy of the firmament,
The metaphysical root of the centuries,
The orison of the twilights.
It’s yours the rocks’ sleep,
The blood that drips from the sun’s torn fingers,
The rainbow.
It’s yours the flight of the shooting stars,
The poem that night writes upon silence’s body,
The wailing of the rain,
The glow of the stars.
All of this is for you,
It’s yours.


Where can one read
True love?
Where can one see
The written life?
Where can one utter the felt truth?
Where can one keep the secret of a being?
Where can one plead for eternal life?
Where can one discover the reversibility of life?
Where can one run away from the madness of hours?
Where to hide
From coming death?
Where? Where the voice is us,
We are the truth,
Light is us,
Are we Life?
Somewhere? No, in ourselves.


The wise man asked Nature
For the obscure logic of Chance,
And the complex intimacy of relationships,
He asked for profound things,
Secrets, distant formulas.

But the other man
Asked neither for hard logic,
Nor for complexity,
Nor for secrets.
He asked only happy chance,
The proximity of things
And the probability of life.
And he was sated.


I sometimes dream with transcendental things,
Frightful, from the deepest abysses,
With horrible, strange, immense beings,
Inhabitants, perhaps of uncouth worlds.

I dream… and, alert, I think on those people
Who, at night, followed me, irate,
And who seem to be monstrous creations
From fecund heavens, hands, brains.

I dream… and mediate afterwards on the lives
I saw in such fantastical visions.
- And in my spirit doubts emerge:

… In dreams I believe my soul is soaring
Towards worlds still redolent with aromas
From my previous days, from incarnations…

And if you didn’t think about Great Cthulhu on reading this, you’re lying!


Before me,
It was your bloodied womb, mother!
And before it,
It was your veins,
Your sap,
Your nerves,
The placenta!
- My biological roots,
Which already also grow
On other women’s nature,
And before you,
It was your parents,
The imprecise series of my forefathers,
Adam and Eve, the legend.
Yes, the beginning and the end
Of each man
Rests on the legend.
(The legend and then man:
Man and then the legend).
Only the poet lives with the legend,
The poet is the legend
The resurrection of the flower
Of fantasy
In the indecisive hands of being.
And through the eyelids
Of its sacred fire
Ivy tendrils climb
Snooping around its recondite dreams.


In each flower
A generation of pure realities
And a sure will
To create beauty;
In each leaf
A subtle world
Of living shapes and multiple revelations;
In each thicket
An advanced notion
Of an infinite space
Whereupon an
Entire creation fits;
In each stem
The firm conscience
Of a collective existence;
In each root
The conjugated strength
Of heterogeneous elements
But aware of the truth
That live contains;
In each fruit
A kind finality
A reason to be persistent
That is understood, felt and complete;
In each slice
The repetition of life
The affirmation of the world,
The Creator’s perennial word to the created beings.

In each vegetable cell,
In each animal cell
A constant struggle
And a variable that makes possible
That same struggle.

In many men
A shattered soul,
A broken heart
Fallen on the ground…

Finally, here are some excerpts from Exemplos. I had neither the courage nor the patience to translate an entire canto. Fom Exemplo Geral (1966):

First Canto (excerpt)


Because taking joy in our work
Is the role given to us,
For who will make us return
To see what will  be after us?
Dangerous connection of time to its own thing,
When it’s not time, but hermetic thing,
Or thing of immortal thing.
Because we dream, that’s why we know we die.
Soul or no soul, however in our soul and time of creatures.
And memories, memories
Like wages or sacrificial pitchers,
Human reasons for censorship and audience,
And help, the great deadline, the possibility.
Here we deal with the time when the task
Belongs neither to death nor time,
But the speech of errors, the clock and the blood not longer
Being instruments or routes or roundabouts.

Malice and rancour,
Waiting and promise.
Sin, pride, lust,
Sin, envy, sin,
Sweat and effort, conviction, success,
Calumny, lassitude, pity,
And fatigue, exaltation, compliment, fatigue and calumny.

And above all thirst, hunger, fullness or dissatisfaction,
The organs and the religion of intuiting ourselves:
Wines and the pacts we adopt
For the thirty monies of feast to fidelity.

From Exemplo Relativo (1968):

Second Canto (excerpt)

And night descend upon Europe, alters it,
And, between the train and the Simonstraat wall,
We’re bound, over the asphalt, to that picture of Bruegel,
With the snow, the blizzard, the rain and the dark
Scattered, like victims, across Flanders.

Venice was, in bygone days, less arduous.
What other pilgrims could we be
If we didn’t come to unknot
Those knots and know some others?

We abandoned, for sure, very early,
Our addresses, our feet we brought
For a dubious journey, oh who knows
If we didn’t demand from our eyes
An ecstasy useful only to Lazarus or Eutychus,
A lesser fervour than the one entering through our abodes’ doorposts?


And we remained caught over the asphalt,
Reflecting on Bruegel,
Because there’s nothing worst or better
Than the gravity of this evening or this neighbour’s tongues,
Since we don’t know our credit or debit
In all these things and only possess,
In difficult days, the digital numbers and the dead.


So here we are, then, between Europe and the night,
Bruegel and Flanders,
In light clothes, not around high or low places,
Walking ahead of our blood,
To make it our property
So it won’t examine us and judge us,
In high places, around
Bruegel and Flanders,
Between Europe and the night,
Searching for our debit and credit in all these things.


But we won’t love these dubious houses
Nor its proud inhabitants,
Oh prestigious dead of this deserted Europe
- Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky,
What to do about this time of ineptness and decline?

From Exemplo Dúbio (1975):

First Canto (excerpt)

He whom evil did not inhabit
What can he know about truth?
How shall he receive pity
Between its four limbs and this sinless land?
We say: these successes are real.
The years, privation, lust
Narrate man as thorn or the remnants,
But in truth, in truth,
What to do with so much oil?

Ah uselessness, uselessness,
How much longer will
You be by our bedside?

Straw, smoke, stucco, restless vestiges
Of permanence, like the hour or deceit,
The living house, the fate entire, the threads
-         what would we want to hear from god’s mouth?

I hope that was enough to give an idea of how complicated and inter-textual these poems are. I myself need to re-read them because I don’t think I understood a tenth of their meaning. But in terms of imagery, language and allusiveness, they’re tremendous.