I recently joined a Portuguese e-publication where I must compose a poem weekly, and my self-proposed theme was to translate paintings that I favoured throughout my life, which, knowing myself, is a monumental task. I’m not a visual creator in the slightest, but am instead wholesomely auditive; I suffered of poor eyesight from early age, but was only treated much later, already in early adolescence. This generated an imbalance in how I most confidently translate the stimuli I receive from the world; my trust always falls, firstly, in what I hear, and not in what I see.
I’ve always been incredibly fond of visual arts, and I ache to develop a veritable visual mythology to guide my creative endeavours. This project is one such exercise I hope may help in that task, and this second composition (the first was on Munch’s Sun), even in translation, is already roughly contoured by my visual weaknesses. Hopefully, they become better as I write more of them.
Still Life with Profile of Laval has always been a painting of great intrigue to me; the deformity of Gauguin’s sculpted jug, tactically placed behind the assortment of fruits, immediately inspired the unbecoming of the latter; that is the inevitable disfigurement — the perishing — which Laval seems to gaze at in stolid anticipation. The vividness of the objects and, in contrast, the smokey dullness of every other element in the painting (including Laval himself), seemingly translates two aesthetic tempos in a single stage: there isn’t so much a dichotomy of being/not-being, but one of being/waiting-to-no-longer-be; a slow and dormant corrosion. Gauguin’s signature diagonal strokes, which I call his texture of dissipation, add the final weight to what is, in my view, a beacon of painted brilliance.
I truly hope you’re well, and thank you, João-Maria.
Little exists in record regarding Telémaco Augusto Santana. From some spotted newspaper publications regarding his work, to some handful of poultry donations made to the parish he inhabited, his name seems almost like a dent in an ancient structure; part of a gestalt of ages, another function of the uniformity of time. A texture, almost, void of essence, void of movement. Curiously, and from what I gathered, he was anything but a quiet adornment during his lifetime in Lisbon. Any perspicacious eye upon his poems would quickly detect the lavish aura he emanates as a figure of social class and probity. An authentic “flâneur“, an ogive filled with grandiose ideas and a profoundly refined inclination for the aesthetical. An indication of his zesty and obstreperous spirit can be found in the curious preface he wrote for “Lucilações“:
A Short Statement
Poetry in Portugal has no true market. The few exceptions are revered poets, and only when these are edited by publishers with a strong commercial amplitude. Most of the literate public does not read books of verse… They lightly peruse them. I decided, then, to not make this book a commercial publication. To my Friends and Critics that have accepted to appreciate my modest poetic works, I intend to offer a unique edition of this new book. And shall do it with much pleasure, since I never thought of myself as a bookshop success. Poetry is the expression of beauty through image and the highest expression of the spirit. —
The image is the medullary substance of Poetry. It is its vital essence. When Poetry achieves its maximum simplicity, it finally enters the realm of maximum beauty. Therefor–says a great Master–, the highest poet among all must be that who, without bombastic artifices nor loud resonances, still manages to impress our sentiment, thrill us, commove us, and imbue us with the fluid and luminous harmony of his verses. I know that all my poetic flights do not reach such grand and delightful heights–but, even then, as the only indelible compensation, I received the profound satisfaction of seeing my verses worthy of flattering words from demanding critics, and from notable and famous poets alike. Some of them do not know me personally, which further values their compliments.
To all who transmitted their appreciations that I deem sincere and very honouring, here I leave my deepest gratitude.
This opening text is bounteous in its richness; we, the poetic dilettantes, oft complain about the economic impracticability of our verses. Poetry, indeed, does not sell easily, nor has it ever sold easily. It’s of some strangely dim warmth to see those concerns echoed in the somewhat-distant past of 1946, a decade that saw the artistic beginnings of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, E.E. Cummings and Richard Wilbur, among myriad other illustrious poets of the modernistic 20th century. Telémaco himself enjoyed a pleasant hue of success and was both frequently vaunted by critics in publications, and respected among Lisbon’s literary circles. Beyond his concerns regarding the state of sustenance through verse, we find a lucid interpretation of poetic production during his time: simplicity, imagery, sensitivity. Although I’m not completely certain of who the great Master is, after some brainscouring, I now believe he might be referring to Alberto Caeiro, an heteronym of Fernando Pessoa that enjoyed publications from as early as 1925, and was commonly referred to as “the Master” by his other heteronyms, as well as many other poets of the same era, due to Caeiro’s sensism and connection to the simple and natural.
The only surviving remnants of Telémaco‘s life are his books; though diffuse and often of expensive collection, most of them exist in various antiquaries in Lisbon. I found “Flores da Minha Alma“(1942), “Lux Bruxoleante“(1941) and “Revérberos da Poente”(1945) all available for purchase, though all at prices a bit beyond my means. I have never found “Lucilações” available elsewhere, which is unsurprising, since it had no commercial publication of any form, unlike the other books he has produced. The word chosen as the title, however, was completely unknown to me. “Lucilar“, in an elder form of Portuguese, means “to glisten”, making “lucilações“, “glistenings”.
Coming from a post-war era that glistened with fertile poetic ground — insofar as it generated some of the most potent authors of our collective history — and, concomitantly, enjoying such a pronounced respect from literary critics and a wide breadth of relevant influences, it’s difficult to cogitate how it is that Telémaco managed to wane and be forgotten, even among our national lyrical pantheon. Upon opening the book, those doubts become nubile vapours rather quickly:
In that town the bloodthirsty Mars showed the fear that dominates most. — Satanic vision!… And everywhere mounds of corpses and birds of prey!…
Sounded the triumphant hymn of the rational beast.
Blazes danced, smiling with joyful and tragic effects, like the ideas of repulsive men that only in evil feel satisfied, unknowing of the light of Jesus’s Verb.
Rises now the hallucinating pain that in children is more feared and strong: In the smoldering, annihilated town, two small children, through death, sought to find the gods of their home.
Hand-in-hand, calling for their parents, they hopped from rubble to rubble. They were featherless eaglets that, orphaned, were afraid of everything…
–War!… Feral chess where playing we feel from blood, the inebriation!
And the Sun was already dying. Covered itself in a glittering mantle… and the orphans, in a plangent pain translating so much naive love, still clamoured, through long laments: — Oh, dear parents!… where do you lie?… and only the horror of Death replied!
With high indignation the Wind portended. With kisses of emotion gracing little angels.
— Oh false world, of eternal mystery, from a human Heaven to an earthly Hell!
If Fernandes de Sá was of difficult translation, Telémaco is tortuous at best. His Portuguese, though eloquent and highly expressive, suffers from a terrible contortion in order to establish a rhyme. This is, in fact, an issue often seen in many lyrical poets of any historical era: one cannot sacrifice fluidity for melody, since there is no melody without fluidity. Telémaco shows a puerile and sequacious tact with his own productions, whose subjects nearly always fall upon Christian mythology, verses on nobility and the pious deeds therein, and courts of love.
Telémaco was likely a man of wealth and stature; a nobleman, a cavalier of abound polish with a deep influence on the social strata of his time. The reviews I’ve read show a trend of vacuous and sycophantic praises of what he wrote, and considering he decided to include these reviews on the last pages of this privately published book, one might assume he was greatly proud of them. Even without an affirmed status, it is not inconceivable that he’d enjoy mild success during his lifetime; his poetry was, after all, congruent with the times, and was virtually riskless in form or content, which only further asseverates his apparent erosion through the tidings.
INEFFABLE DESTROYED WORLD
The soul of a good Mother is a large world all made from love and highest caring. A love so pathetic and profound there isn’t a plume that can describe it.
It is born indelible and fecund, and is a blooming field, always beautiful, even when the trembling of destiny overstays inside the kingdom of torture.
The most anguished human pain, from the martyr Mother is intensely cast, shattering the motherly heart.
In front of the death of her loved child… — Oh! what world, ineffable and destroyed and what longing from a volcano of tears!
“Reviews of «Reverberations of a Sunset»”
“From Alexandre de Matos (Most inspired poet and distinct publisher):
«From all literary species, poetry is that which most easily expressed ideas and sentiments; but prose isn’t far behind it. Well, in its small “Aerial Preface”, so lovingly filigreed, there’s proof that Telémaco even in prose is a poet. …Reading the “Symphony of the Heart”, for me the most interesting part of the book, I was able to listen and enjoy, executed in seven poetic compositions, the sonata of harmonies that pulse within his heart!»
(the other two reviews follow the exact same lines; sometimes, with the exact same expressions. There are also ten additional pages of different reviews)
“Lucilações”, although not the most augmenting of reading experiences, was a generous exercise in conception for me. I can picture Telémaco having extensive colloquies with his literary consorts, or ardently complaining about the insuperable shedding of leaves from the Chilean peppertrees that line the central avenue of Campo d’Ourique, where he most likely lived. I can picture him, a stern and stolid man, a true homme du temps, with a decorous modesty and calm spirit. I can picture him in cafés, reading his esteemed Júlio Dantas, or regional papers like “Alma Nacional” or “Ecos de Sintra“, and, more sprawling still, is the tact I can have with what he felt and how he felt it; how he distilled what he saw, the beauty of it, the sense in its beauty. I can compose how delicately he saw his spirituality, how fervently he saw his God, a distensible and glowing figure that centralised him inside a dazed and conflicted world. I can mimic the dehiscence of his smile whenever he received a warm review of his verses. I can, during moments and with much force, be an echo of Telémaco within my mind, and thus, for a brief moment, he exists once again, and may now feel the glorious pungency of the peppertree that lonesomely guards my own street.
Poetry, no matter its value or commercial viability, will never be destitute of its singular most convex purpose: to condense the spirit which orders the hand; its pain and pleasure, memory, pulse, texture, skin. It’s a print, henceforth indelible and eternal, even if just in the minds of those who’ve read it, which, as the tendrils of some immortal creature, seeds further the existence of a collective being, through Art, in Art. One last tether between us all, beyond the tiring artifices of social maintenance, of having to.
I truly hope Telémaco had a wonderful life distant from the wounds of his period on Earth; I hope, similarly, that as Telémaco, my creations might inspire someone, far in the future, to wonder how I was, how I lived. I wonder, then: what would they come up with?
Only in false gold have my eyes shimmered; I’m a sphynx without mystery at sight. The sadness of things that never happened descend in my soul as a veiled light.
In my pain, craving swords are broken, illuminated arrows blend with dark. The shades flowing from me are torn apart, as with yesterday, to me, today is forsaken.
I quiver no longer in face of secrecy; Nothing torments me, not even gore: Life flows through me like a war, Without a single breath of fear!
I’m a drunken star who lost its skies, a maddened mermaid who left the sea; A godless temple crumbling to its lies, A false statue still held highly.
Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Paris, 5 of May of 1913
MERCEDES IN HER FLIGHT
A gelid and upright guitar is what you are in rocks of height. A throatless voice, a dark voice sounding everything without sounding anything.
Your thoughts are snow slipped by the infinite glory of whiteness. Your profile a perennial burn, your heart a freed dove.
Sing, sing in the freedom of air, that fragrant dawning melody, mound of light and wound of lily.
So that we, down here, day and night shall make in the corners of sadness a garland of melancholy.
Federico García Lorca
55, Rain Passage
«In each raindrop my failed life cries within nature. There is something in my drop-by-drop disquiet, in the downpour-to-downpour with which the sadness of a day unbecomes uselessly over the earth. It rains heavily, so heavily. My soul is humid just by hearing it. So heavily… My flesh is liquid and aqueous wrapping around my sensation of it. A restless cold places those frigid hands around my poor heart. The grey hours stretch out, flatten themselves upon time; the moments drag out. How it rains! The gutters spit out scant torrents of water always suddenly. Slithers through my knowledge that there are pipes with an unsettling noise of down-spurt. Rain bangs against the glass, indolent, moaning.
A cold hand grips my throat and impedes me from breathing life. Everything dies within me, even the knowledge that I can dream! In no physical sense am I fine. Every softness in which I recline has edges for my soul. All eyes I look upon are so dim after this indigent daylight breaks onto them so it can die without pain.»
Fernando Pessoa (through Bernardo Soares), 1914(?) in Book of Disquiet
«What imprecise queen holds near her lakes the memory of my broken life? I was the pageboy of promenades too insufficient to the aerial hours of my blue stillness. Distant ships completed the sea by waving over my terraces, and in southern clouds I lost my soul, like a dropped paddle.»
Fernando Pessoa (through Bernardo Soares), 1918(?), in Book of Disquiet
Writing poems has, slowly, become a ritualistic exercise of hindering the velocity of my mind-dialectic, give it a shape, try to understand what it is I’m trying to reach. I rarely ever reach it. Various elements go missing, and I end up scouring a wreckage more-so than exploring an inner architecture. That is the thing, though, things don’t often come out as they are, and less often come out as they should, but it’s still important that they do.
The “you” element is not something I ordinarily use in English poetry, I don’t always like the form it takes in English, as it feels more dual than I believe it should. This poem, however, as all of those I’ve recently published, is translated from its Portuguese original. Don’t judge it too harshly, he is not from here, you see…
the days without anyone impish notes scrawled quickly crumpled in our fingers
the honeysuckle was beautiful rising through the night of forsaken residence
exact stones scented dusts fireflies napping in the flexibility of clay sands covered of insects bones and teeth and the river hauling weary nights
luminous inflorescence acid moons crumbling fissures of earth coastline cities birds fragile paths in open flight during the tremendous lucidity of dreaming
I’m left with halls of glass where I drown the calcined remains of body I open the door leading to my visage descend the mossy steps of the yard cross the masonry garden where I lived the entire time before I hurried “Days Without Anyone” – Al Berto
Landlocked mid poetic subject and poet, mid experience and body, mid reality and the act of writing, lies an indubitable reflective surface lightly swiveling as the halo of a flame. Mário Lugarinho illustrated Al Berto “between the poetic and the experimented, installed as a bridge — the mirror itself, recurrent metaphor in his oeuvre. Between poetry and experience, the subject, incontestable mediator between the real and the written and establishing between them the flagrant coincidence.” In a sensory blossoming of ontological experience, Al Berto carries the brutalism of existence as one does scars in one’s own body, exhibiting those elements of suffering with timid thrusts while words cannibalise their own element of sincerity. The body, in his poems, rises as a monolith of subjectivity laved in the hemorrhage of experience; it is cumbrous with sensuality, hatred, speech, infancy, shards of things-in-themselves in a scenery of mournful abandonment:
I sleep within a disheveled body fear encroaches the somber hall I find a water scintillating in plaster a scar of mossy crystals opens porous to my touch, indicating there shall be no forgetting or breeze to clean the immemorial time of this home
of this simulated sleep, it left but bitter iodine the waxed woods covered in dust dried herbs in rain sheafs of rosemary, jonquils, snapdragons, campions, clover yet no escape has been restarted my infancy remains sad where I abandoned it nearly does not live yet I still hear it breathing within me.
now all is different I restart life from the emptiness of dark days in silence in-between skin and a beam of magnificent veins I feel the bird of age dragging its wings
where it develops a calm lunar flight
I enumerate objects thoroughly, classifying them by sizes and textures, by functions I want to leave everything tidy when madness comes from the sharpened extremity of my winged body and my face is intruded by a shard of wing
so shall life collapse unto a sheet of paper where verse by verse I illuminate and wear myself out.
“Vigílias” – Al Berto
The stark provocation of image — which binds itself both cruel and ethereal in a procession of memory — is not merely symbol, but a counterpoint to denotation; the wound is palpable, as each verse widens its longitude with unstinting force where the absence of breath is not merely a quality of form but a proxy to restlessness. A frondsome garden is thus woven and hydrated in white obscurity: reality is held in a crystalline distance, writing cannot approximate it, regardless of eloquence, of thought, of philosophies, we lie in open sight and sketch an estimated geography, and, from time-to-time, an embodiment of placid light befalls our lips and we are disfigured by castrated toponymies; our place in the universal lie unfurls. Al Berto carries out his death in poem successively, both the wanting of his death and the pestilent, modern malaise of the death of wanting, inherited from a legacy of weighted dichotomies and promises–too long has the poet promised, too epic was the oneiric journey of poetics, too arduous the return. Thus, his poetry is a summon for a corpse, the buoyant corpse of his infantile yearn, the mossy corpse of his lyrical dreams, the winged corpse of his light, yet merely a corpse: the gallows of his life plaintively whistle within, and in reality lies a frigid inheritance of death. Our body, lush with herbs and snapdragons and rosemary positioned as a reflective vessel of both, a world of unbearable cruelty made of particles and waves of synthesized beauty. There is, yet, an ethereal release from anguish in his mirror of corpses that, even if still anguished, serves to lighten the breath:
I write to you feeling all of this and in an instance of lucidity I could be the river the goats shrouding the tinkle of sleigh-bells in the silver crystals of a photograph I could rise as the chestnut-tree of those tales whispered by a fire and wander, trembling with the birds or accompany the sulfuric butterfly revealed by humid lips I could mimic that shepherd or mistake myself for the dream of a city which little by little bites its own immobility
I inhabit this world of water by error I’m required radio-graphic images of bones unfocused faces hands on bodies printed in paper and mirrors notice I have nothing else if not this note stained with fine arils of pomegranate I sent today notice how a heart of paper is yellowed by the forgetfulness of loving you.
“Trabalhos do Olhar” – Al Berto
Passion, even in passing, is an effusing stroke, and a world perhaps collapsed is reshaped (albeit perfunctorily) only to support that florescence, as loving is the most human of all Arts, notice we have nothing else.