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(Poet: 1924 – 1986)
by Fernando Correia da Silva
Translated by John D. Godinho
studied at the Naval School, but they did not give you a pilot’s license
because of your near-sightedness. Frustrated,
you expressed your sorrows in verse:
studied to be a seaman
I put on my glasses and remained on dry land.
before you sink in dry land, let me ask you:
kind of name is that?”
am the son of an Irish lord. I
will take possession of those emerald estates when my father kicks the
bucket. This waiting makes me impatient, since I am very fond of Irish
coffee and of the shamrock...”
laugh, then, marching side by side, we start on our way toward the Chiado
(T.N.: Area of downtown Lisbon). We could have stopped and sat for a while
at A BRASILEIRA. Its mirrors and modernist panel make that coffee house
very seductive. But, now and then, the environment there is spoiled by the
presence of Inspector Seixas, a known torturer for the State Security
Police (PIDE), who is either displaying his truculence or showing off his
band of new recruits who recently got out of the army.
So we decide that it’s more healthful to go down
Garrett Street. On the left
side, slightly below the Sá da Costa Bookshop, there’s the CAFÉ
so, here we go, you hopping from side to side as if there were little
puddles on the sidewalk and always with that syncopated manner of
expressing yourself. If you were a pianist, you’d be a stacato
first room at the CAFÉ CHIADO seems like an aquarium with some
interesting little fish. One
of them, stretched on a wicker chair, is António Maria Lisboa, the
surrealist poet. I know of
your quarrels with this crew who write according to formula and I’m
curious as to what you’re going to do. You raise your hands in a gesture
of greeting. Perhaps the last
greeting, since Lisboa is suffering from tuberculosis, and he is just
hanging around waiting for death to come, the poor guy...
second room is very large and gloomy.
There, on the right side, there’s an orgy going on in a large
panel entitled Roman Orgy, a painting which occupies most of the
wall. Sitting right under the
panel are two well-known Mários who
are surrealists, one is Cesariny and the other is Leiria.
I’m a close friend of the latter.
You make believe you don’t see them and they make believe they
don’t see you. I can’t
come, Alexandre. You were such good friends and you did such interesting
things together. I can still
remember those collages you did for the Ampola Miraculosa (The
stop, hold my arm, and ask:
you know that I was the first to buy and read the History of Surrealism,
by Maurice Nadeau? That I was
the one who dared Mário Henrique Leiria, Vespeira and José Augusto-França
to do something similar here to shake our Portuguese sluggishness? That’s
how the Lisbon Surrealist Movement was born.
Did you know that?”
I know that. And that’s why I can’t understand your quarrel.
two or three of those opportunists wanted to turn the Movement into an
instrument of indoctrination. Poetry
has to be practical truth, I can’t stand indoctrinations.
in syncopated, loud and clear syllables:
/ doc / tri / na / tion / !”
go into the third room of the Café Chiado, quite bright, with a frosted
glass ceiling, probably an old foyer between two buildings.
That’s where the students hang out.
Mimeographed poems by SIDÓNIO
and other neo-realist poets are handed out and travel from table to table.
You look down your nose at that type of proletarian heroism.
not how you make political poetry.”
how do you make it?”
to my house and I’ll show you.”
so, I go to his place. It’s a third floor walk-up in the residential
district of Arco do Cego. I ring the bell and a woman wearing thick
eyeglasses opens the door. Can it be your sister? No, I suppose not, since
you quarreled with your father and you are now staying at your uncle’s.
She must be your cousin. Whatever.
She looks at me in a very suspicious manner and then screeches out
your name: Alexandre, Alexandre! You appear at the end of the
corridor, run up to me, grab my arm and lead me to your room.
a bed, a desk, bookshelves and a metal cabinet with large drawers that
slide on rollers. You
open one of them; it contains dozens of folders. You pull out
six or seven of them and an number of poems present themselves, by
Mayakovsky, Neruda, Aragon, Éluard and his catalyzing Liberté, je dis
ton nom! There’s also an unknown author (at least to me) named
Bertolt Brecht. I’m amazed: here’s
poetry organized as if it were a business activity. The German fellow,
Brecht, is astonishing, I’m enthralled by his conciseness. So much so,
that one week later I will write six poems, Brechtian style, in just one
sitting, one of them lamenting Comrade Stalin’s death. And you’re
going to like my verses and insist that I continue.
But it’s all in vain; I’m more inclined to write prose...
O’Neill. Those fellows’ poetry can’t be monopolized like that, it
has to be made available to everybody.”
think so, too!”
that’s how we came up with the idea of an underground publication with
militant poetry. It will be called A
POMBA (THE DOVE) honoring Picasso. You’ll take care of the
translations. I’ll take
care of the printing since my father has a mimeograph in his office in
Restauradores Square. I print everything at night and he doesn’t even
about the launch of the paper? I
propose the following:
we’re dealing with a launch, let THE DOVE take off from the
second balcony of the Tivoli
Theater for a landing on the audience in the orchestra seats, during one
of those cultural movie sessions on late Thursday afternoons.
It’ll be a flock in a beautiful flight...”
don’t think the guys of the Opposition will approve the idea.”
take care of that.”
that’s what I do. I talk to
one of the leaders of the MUD JUVENIL *; I tell him about our plan
and show him the poems. A few days later, he advises me that the Directors
are against the idea; that agitation is one thing, poetry is something
else, they shouldn’t be mixed. Supposedly,
they know better...
seem to know them better than I do, O’Neill, even though you’re just a
fellow traveller, rather than a militant... But if it’s agreed between
us, then it’s to be done, and to hell with the know-it-alls... At the
last minute, just to appease the guys at the JUVENIL, you suggest that I
include in THE DOVE my own poem about Stalin’s death.
I agree to do it, but I sign it with a pseudonym, since I have no
a certain Thursday afternoon, there we are in the Tivoli’s second
balcony. The theater is dark and, just as the last scene comes on the
screen, we release the strings and THE DOVES begin their flight
toward the audience below. But
there’s a little accident: you
fumble with a pile of “doves” and let it fall on the head of a
spectator. Below, someone bellows:
what the hell...?!”
in ‘53 I decide to get married and you, of course, are one of the
invited guests. You know that
my wife and I have just returned from a trip around Europe.
You take me aside and ask me, very secretively:
your passports still valid?”
get out while you can, because things are really going to get rough around
are really thinking of taking off to Brazil, but I know that something
else is at the root of your anxiety.
Nora Mitrani, the French surrealist, comes though Lisbon in 1949.
You meet, enjoy each other’s company, fall in love, l’amour
fou sometimes happens outside romantic novels... Upon returning to
Paris, Nora invites you to go there and stay with her.
come to Paris, stay here and then we see...”
apply to the Lisbon authorities for a passport.
But someone in your family, who doesn’t want you to go after the
French woman, uses his
connections with the PIDE to prevent you from getting the document.
And the passport is denied. What
the hell kind of country is this where the police have the power to
interfere with a love affair?
rage, your frustrated love, are expressed in Um Adeus Português (A
you could not remain with me
an old pain
are from the city where life hangs
a thread of pure chance
you live or die not of asphyxiation
at the hands of pure business ventures
the false currency of good and evil
this turning point so tender and yet so painful
“Alexandre, I can understand your being worried about our passports, judging from your experience, but take it easy, relax!”You didn’t relax, your intuition told you that you shouldn’t; while my wife and I were still on our honeymoon, you were being arrested by the PIDE. When we left for Brazil you were still in the clink. For forty days you remain in the lockup, contemplating that bloody paw that hesitates...
1958, in Brazil, I manage to get your book No Reino da Dinamarca (In
the Kingdom of Denmark). Then in 1960, I received Abandono Vigiado
(Defection under Surveillance). In 1962, Poemas com Endereço (Poems
with an Address). In 1965, Feira Cabisbaixa (The Downhearted Fair).
In 1969, De Ombro na Ombreira (Shoulder against the Doorpost). And
in 1972, Entre a Cortina e a Vidraça (Between the Curtain and the
Windowpane). Such production makes me wonder:
this fellow really earn a living writing poetry?
I can’t believe it!
in 1972, my friend Vasconcelos, old companion from my days at the Café
Chiado, on a tourist trip, shows up in São Paulo, where I live. After the
customary emotional greetings, I ask him about O’Neill and he tells me:
still writes poetry, but he actually makes his living in advertising. He
is constantly hopping from one agency to another, and all the agencies
want him. He makes all the money he wants, loads of money.”
great! At least he was able
to escape from the general hunger and poverty...”
can see him now. He is fluent
of speech and it’s easy for him to come up with slogans.
Some of them cause an uproar as soon as they are heard. The slogan
BOSCH É BOM (Bosch is good) for example.
To the delight of his
buddies (poets, advertising people and camp followers) the poet himself
invents an obscene play on words: Boche
é brom! (T.N.: The /r/ in
“brom” is insinuated in the word “boche” making it “broche,”
which is the obscene equivalent of “fellatio.” So it becomes “Broche
é bom - fellatio is good”).
is another very amusing ad that was refused by the sponsors:
a kapok filled mattress,
can do it twice without stress...
among his serious slogans, one ends up becoming a byword on Portuguese
beaches. It’s a warning to
Enjoy it, but with care.
REQUIEM FOR NORA MITRANI
O’Neill write six poems in memory of Nora Mitrani
“Not being able to obtain a passport, the poet never saw Nora Mitrani again. Did you know that the cute little French girl committed suicide in Paris, in 1961?”
“Yes, I was aware of it, Vasconcelos. In l962, I read the requiem written by O’Neill:
is no longer important to you,
you are dead.
Pierrot, with his breath of fire
lovers do what they adore)
join in the game of our desire
way he did before.
that obscure servant
had not yet dedicated to you
very fast, like a flame,
us (a jumping spree!)
dares us to bed.
Will you wait for me?
only I could tell you: Sit here,
on the same thread I could string
infinite necklace of our thrills so as to bring
joyful moving fingers to discover
schemes that are of interest to a lover!
I could hold you tight within my hand,
faithful weaver of so many lines,
invented plots, so vain, so bland,
dare someone to guess: What’s inside...?
would be a fertile lover’s game without an end.
Not this barren gesture of an empty hand!
O’Neill marries and separates
informs me that O’Neill married Noémia Delgado in 1957 and they were
separated in 1971. They
had a son: Alexandre Delgado O’Neill, who will become known as a great
photographer. He dies after a
violent attack of asthma, after forgetting his inhaler at home.
we’re talking about love not children...Vasconcelos asks me:
you know that I earn a living as a bank clerk?”
course, I do. You work for the Banco Português do Atlântico, right?”
right, I work in the Information Section.
Do you know who Dr. Gouveia is?”
“I have no idea.”
“He’s one of the bank’s directors. He’s loaded with money and he’s as reactionary as they come. Well, one fine day, Dr. Gouveia asked me to gather as much information as possible about a certain character named Alexandre O’Neill. I nearly laughed. The poet was courting Teresa Patrício Gouveia, Dr. Gouveia’s daughter. They got married last year. The poet is doing all right. By posing as a reactionary, there’ll be plenty of money available...”
how is this Teresa?”
quite a hunk, a beautiful broad.”
Vasconcelos, what a vicious tongue! I’m sure the poet wasn’t taken by the money, nor by the
father’s ideology, but by the girl’s beauty. You’ll see.”
|SALAZAR'S FOUL WEB|
returns to Portugal. I
have an urge to reminisce about the time when I was also caught like a fly
in Salazar’s foul web. I reread O’Neill’s books.
It’s all there. The
profile of fear.
up, afraid, we thank fear
saving us from madness.
and courage are worth less
a lifeless life brings no duress
with no future for adventure,
up, afraid, we battle fiercely
ghosts showing up in our
what we never were, what we will never be.
up, afraid, unable to discuss
oppressed feelings in our heart,
madmen and the ghosts we fight are us.
herd hunted by fear at any cost,
we lived so close, yet so apart
the meaning of life, to us, was lost.
also appeared as an operatic production:
will have it all
of the opera
round the clock
full of courage
you can trust
houses of ill-repute
number of conferences
poems like this
fear will have its heroes!)
and imagined seamstresses
certainly their voice
dog of poetry
dog in ecstasy
by so many beatings
sorry for your master
wear a tie to no avail
you wag your missing tail...
It’s all there, the “life as usual” that we accepted:
poetry, life? Yes, of course!
on the life you lead, the verses come
and if life is in a rut, no type of poetry
resist. The rest is
with libertinage, deceiving idle chatter;
after day, his black coffee, thinking
his own worth, that his ideas matter...
poetry, life? Yes, that’s very clear!
the fact that death is ever drawing near.
there is the motherland that gave us birth:
Portugal, if only you were just three
view of the sea,
province of Minho, Algarve of limestone,
scraping the surface of the earth.
Portugal, if only you were just three syllables
of plastic, so much cheaper!
Portugal: an issue that I have with myself,
a blow cutting to the bone, hunger without a break,
a hunting dog that can't locate a partridge,
a sorry nag in disguise,
despondent conversations in public,
I regret it,
I regret it for all of us...
And there's more:
A country dressed up for propriety's sake
Using its necktie to blow its nose, by mistake.
For all these reasons, I am not at all surprised that Alexandre O'Neill makes the following statement:
Nobre, for all that he might be,
the greatest Loneliness affecting all of us,
why I like him (have pity on me!)
May of ‘74, I’m back in Lisbon surfing the waves of revolution.
I notice and find it strange that O’Neill is absent from all the
wild goings on. By mere
chance, I run into him in ’76 in the Faz Frio Restaurant, close to the
Príncipe Real. After the normal effusive greetings, we talk about old
times. He introduces me to Ruy Cinatti, from Timor, a fine poet. He asks
me to recite once again my poem about the death of Stalin.
already asked the 20th Congress of the Communist Party for permission to
recite it. They think it’s
OK. So, Comrade O’Neill, here goes!”
clownish gestures, I recite the poem that I published in the first and
only issue of A POMBA (THE DOVE).
of jokes, lots of drinks, camaraderie. We will get together a few times, running into each other
occasionally in the streets of Lisbon, brief moments, memories, a certain
sadness. But we will never be close again; our paths have led us in
gives birth to a son, Afonso, your second. You and Teresa separate in
1981. You choose a new love,
Laurinda Bom, who will stay with you until your death in 1986, from heart
failure. In the
meantime, you will write a number of poems, among which
there is O Rato e o Anjo (The Rat and the Angel), as if
nothing had happened since the revolution of April, ’74.
sound hurts in your ear.
in a different sphere.
this story, it seems uncanny,
angel drops his pen,
rat loses its hair
returns to its pack,
the other to his lair.
the Portuguese, with no angel by his side,
that he’s been fed a dose of raticide.
April all over again and sarcasm is returning to its “life as usual.”
Lamenting the situation, but reconciled to it.
poet and friend! Wait there
for me for I won’t be around much longer!
In the meantime, while I’m down here, I reread your poems and
I’m always shocked: after all, “salazarism” was not an aggression against our
people, as much as it was only a natural secretion of the Portuguese
themselves. Very smelly. Very smelly, indeed...