Saturday, November 26, 2005

SAUDADE is what I feel writing of Fernando Pessoa, and the second book on his work (that I know of - the first: FERNANDO PESSOA: VOICES OF A NOMADIC SOUL, by Zbigniew Kotowicz, London: The Menard Press, 1996) to be published in English. Appropriately, it was written by a Portuguese critic, and although much thought and intelligence went into its composition, the result is nevertheless academic in a negative sense, filled with a plethora of postmodernist jargon, places Pessoa in a tradition which distorts his vision, and is disturbingly wrong-hearted, manifesting a tone of sexual jealousy when touching briefly on Pessoa's long-term ladyfriend, Ophelia Queiroz.

Irene Ramalho Santos, the author of FERNANDO PESSOA'S TURN IN ANGLO-AMERICAN MODERNISM (University Press of New England, 2003), was a student of Harold Bloom's, who calls Pessoa an heir of Walt Whitman in his Introduction to the book, and though one of Pessoa's heteronyms was, Bloom often is prone to quick simplications. He denigrates by omission from his F.R. Leavis-like canon British poets like Bunting and MacDiarmid, preferring instead the rigor of Geoffrey Hill.

Pessoa's sexuality has become a topic of interest in academia. Curiously enough, Allen Ginsberg wrote a strangely jingoistic (even if ironic) poem concerning Pessoa, commenting that he, Pessoa, was probably gay. This doubtless stirred things up some. There is no evidence I know of for this surmise, and it seems primarily due to (1) the fact that his closest friend, and co-editor of ORPHEU2, Mario de Sa-Carneiro, who killed himself in Paris at age 26, struggled with his homosexual impulses, and it was perhaps in part this particular inner torment which resulted in the death of this very strong poet and writer; and (2) Pessoa's public support of overtly homosexual poet Antonio Botto.

His love letters to Ophelia, sad ("like the gentle rain") (some translated by Richard Zenith and published in THE SELECTED PROSE OF FERNANDO PESSOA (New York: Grove Press, 2000), are, in their own way, as fine as Keats's to Fanny Brawne. Nevertheless, Irene Santos goes out of her Way to say his relationship with her was "ludicrous" and she also says it was Platonic. The Letters would indicate that despite the Portuguese Catholic conventions of the day (and Pessoa was no rebel Bohemian, living much of his life with and helping to support his mother or his blood relatives) excerpts from the love letters demonstrate other than Platonism: "What happened to you, darling, besides us being separated? Something worse? Why do you speak in such a desperate tone about my love, as if you doubted it, when you have no reason to?....When can we be somewhere together, darling - just the two of us? My mouth feels odd from having gone so long without any kisses...Little Baby who gives me love bites!....Come here, Baby. Come over to Nininho Come into Niniho's arms...I'm so lonely, so lonely for kisses".

This was early on. She was only nineteen, an office worker, quite cultured. He writes of not having enough to buy her the bits-and-bobs she needed, and of his hopes to find someplace in Cascais for them, but it never happened, and there was almost a decade's hiatus. They both remained unmarried, and although he was to write to her "If I marry it will only be to you" but "it remains to be seen whether marriage and home...are compatible with my life of thought", six years later, age 47, he would die. Liver (or pancreas), everyone says too many brandies in the Chiado.

Photographs of him in the final year show him as ravaged as Chet Baker.

Pessoa was one of the most linguistically explorative of the great poets of the twentieth century; yet his work is known and loved by all segments of the Portuguese people. Mrs. Santos would reduce him to fit into a particular tradition of Whitman and Crane, and at times throws in references to Robert Duncan and John Ashbery. She devotes much space to the poetry of a colleage of hers at the U. of Wisconsin, Prospero Sais, a professor of comparative literature, whose poetry is not at all "transgressive" as she claims, and does not rise beyond the rhetorical and mundane and even sententious. One can only find the pushing of the bling of her colleague suspect. The entire book is marred by her acceptance of academic preconceptions. "I learned with Harold Bloom"she writes (p. 267), that "modern lyric poetry...was invented with Wordsworth." (!!)

Although the usual Freudian take on the manifestation of the heteronyms seems to go unchallenged, it is well worth remembering what Gary Snyder said in an interview: "...True poetry is ultimately inspired in origin. It comes to us as a voice from outside. To even say that it comes from within is to mislead yourself. So we are the vehicle of that voice."

Or, if we accept the arguments of Stategy (cf. MY EMILY DICKINSON), it is also worth remembering that Pessoa's poetic ambitions were huge, larger than Pound's. If it is true that he wanted to top Camoes, and that he realized that just one voice could not/would not do it, the heteronyms may have also been, whatever else, a methodology.

Pessoa's drive was to consciousness, and his take on Freud is like a broadsword: that psychoanalytic theory was an excuse to write pornographic novels.

Aleister Crowley came to Lisbon to meet Pessoa and to have him cast his horoscope. The correspondence remains unpublished. But we know that Pessoa helped Crowley to fake his suicide at the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) in Cascais. Crowley, who wrote "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" and was the foremost Black Magician of the 20th century, the man who signed himself "The Beast" and "666", designer of a Tarot deck, the only translator of the I-CHING prior to Sam Reifler to give it a non-patriarchal take (Hexagram 44 is for Crowley, The Bold Maiden, and he attaches no negative sexual stigma to her), illuminates another side to Pessoa, who translated and published one of Crowley's poems. We are far from "Atlantic" poets here, in which tradition Santos, following Bloom places him. We are more in the realm of Dr. Dee or Hermes Trismegistus. Pessoa's affinities are more with Rimbaud, with the French symbolists, with Kafka, and, in our own day, to, say Asa Benveniste, THE ATOZ FORMULA, in particular, and to Iain Sinclair's LUD HEAT.

Charles Olson is mentioned only once, in passing, and in a negative context, which demonstrates that she doesn't know or understand Olson's work. Doubtless, Bloom would bear some responsibility for this failure. Pessoa would have been aware of the fact that the first settlers of Gloucester, Massachusetts, were Portuguese fishermen, and their settlement was communal. It was after that the "founding fathers" the Puritans, the "West country adventurers" well-financed by the British monarchy, arrived to displace them. One could argue for just as much an affinity with Olson ("This is Yeats speaking") as with Whitman or Crane. But even after fifty years, perhaps THE MAXIMUS POEMS still offers too great a challenge intellectually and politically to many English Departments.

If Pessoa is an "Atlantic" poet at all it is in his sense of "O Portugal, hoje es nevoeiro" (O PORTUGAL, FOG YOU ARE) (from "Os tempos" in MENSAGEM, translated by Jonathan Griffin), even though it is the Tagus he looks out upon. And the sky in Brazil was as different for Ricardo Reis as it was, and even moreso, for the young Pessoa growing up and being schooled in Durban, South Africa. "Comes the hour!" is the final line in NEVOEIRO (FOG) "E a Hora!"

And his prose masterpiece, as Soares, is as much a man writing for his life as Sylvia Plath was in ARIEL. THE BOOK OF DISQUIETUDE is the apex of quintessential prose postmodern journal.

I think Dr. Santos could do poetry a great service by getting permission from the Queiroz family to publish the letters from Ophelia, as part of their complete correspondence, which exists in manuscript. Although the folk at Casa Pessoa in Lisbon said that his family knew there were other "girlfriends" she was undoubtedly the most important non-familial relationship in his life, "painful" as Santos says, or not. As Pessoa wrote in MENSAGEM (MESSAGE), the only book of poetry published in Portuguese under his own name in his lifetime:

The storm, once, was so great, the will so strong!
Now there is left us, in the hostile silence,
The universal sea, the longing.