‘Instante’ (‘Moment’) by Wislawa Szymborska

My rating: 3 stars

Instante (Moment) by Wislawa Szymborska was the book I chose to represent Poland at the ‘EU still 28’ reading project. I believe this was my first time reading a poetry collection which was not originally written in Portuguese but translated into it. So, I’m not entirely certain if my misgivings in relation to some of these poems are due to the translation or to Szymborska’s writing style.

Being faithful to the title of the collection, various poems seem to have been inspired by moments and snippets from people’s lives. These moments, conveyed through a rather direct style, are comprised of both casual daily life occurrences and highly significant events. For example, ‘Fotografia de 11 de Setembro’ (‘Photograph from September 11’) focuses on the moment when people started to jump from the towers of the World Trade Centre complex following the terrorist attack in 2001.

Time is another recurring element in this collection. ‘As Três Palavras Mais Estranhas’ (‘The Three Oddest Words’) uses the word ‘future’ to demonstrate how time is inescapably brief. After all, before we finish saying ‘future’, the first syllable is already in the past. Continue reading

Portuguese Poets in Music

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 sparked a (sometimes heated) debate about whether song lyrics can be considered poetry or not. Although I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject, I tend to believe that song lyrics can be regarded as poetry, as long as they are intricate, profound and convey a stimulating meaning through the rhythmic qualities of the language. The difference seems to be that usually song lyrics are regarded as popular while poetry is considered to be erudite.

Some Portuguese artists and bands mixed the two concepts by setting to music the works of famous poets. The two cases that immediately sprang to mind were Fernando Pessoa and Florbela Espanca. But there may be more examples that I don’t know of.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has had various of his poems used as song lyrics of diverse music genres – Jazz, Indie-Pop and Fado. Early this year, Salvador Sobral sang during a concert a song, Presságio (composed by Júlio Resende), whose lyrics are a poem by Fernando Pessoa. Continue reading

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen: A Socially Conscious Poet

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is the Portuguese author that has been part of my life for the longest time. She wrote poetry, essays and short stories, both for adults, younger readers and children. The first time I read one of her stories I was 10 or 11 years old and I will continue to read her poems for years to come. But her role in Portuguese society was larger than ‘just’ being a phenomenal writer. She also played a part against the dictatorial regime in the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s.

Her poetry reveals her strong civic involvement. Some of the poems featured in her collection O Nome das Coisas focus on the colonial war, the dictatorship, but also the Carnation Revolution, which took place in 1974, its outcome and the meaning of freedom. Other poems were inspired by the life and work of Fernando Pessoa, probably the most renowned Portuguese poet abroad.

The only other complete collection of poems I read by Sophia was Poesia, which has various references to the sea, the night and the moonlight. However, I’ve read and studied many other of her poems while in school. Her poetry revolves mainly around three themes. One of them is nature, which is always perceived in a positive way. It’s by having contact with nature that mankind can achieve total plenitude. It also serves as a symbol for many abstract concepts, such as freedom. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa: Many Personalities in One Author

To write an author spotlight about Fernando Pessoa is quite a demanding task, since he was not one single writer, he was many. He invented the concept of ‘heteronyms’, which are not ordinary pen names or pseudonyms, but different ‘voices’ with their own biographies, writing styles, physiques, personalities and intellectual lives. Pessoa is one of the most famous Portuguese writers and published both poetry, essays and fiction.

Born in 1888 in Lisbon, he moved to South Africa with his mother in 1895 to join his stepfather, a military officer who was then the Portuguese consul in Durban. His father and his younger brother died when he was really young. In 1905, he returned to Lisbon, where he died in 1935 of cirrhosis. Some of his works were left unfinished and the majority were only published after his death.

Fernando Pessoa can be characterised as a modernist writer, being one of the authors who established the movement in Portugal. I am no specialist, but from what I remember from school, modernist writers aimed to self-consciously break with the traditional ways of writing. They had a conscious desire to express new sensibilities, to focus on new themes in poetry and to contravene the language rules. Continue reading

Books I Want to Read Before the End of 2016

I don’t usually establish to-be-read lists. However, now that we are in the last quarter of the year, there are some books that I really want to read before 2016 comes to an end. The list features books written by contemporary authors, some classics and Portuguese poetry.

The Dumb House by John Burnside is a book that I have been wanting to read for quite a while. The story focuses on a narrator that uses his own children as subjects of an experiment to recreate the Dumb House of Persian myth. I expect this novel to be quite dark and disturbing.

To continue my endeavour to read more books by female authors, I also want to read A God in Ruins. I don’t know much about this novel by Kate Atkinson, besides it being set around the time of the Second World War, which is usually a theme I am interested in reading about.

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