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DAVID POLLARD ON SIMON JENNER’S PESSOA SERIES

THE SIMON JENNER PAGE

simon-jenner-2

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crowley19

Crowley and Pessoa

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DAVID POLLARD WRITES:

Simon Jenner – the Pessoa Series
I bend to pluck its auxiliary nerve

We are treating here of colours. To be precise: of the constituents of white light. Can we use the prism as a metaphor for hetero-naming? Jenner at least implies as much as his series on Pessoa is flooded with the violence intrinsic to the breakdown of light – every colour of the rainbow as ‘a lozenge of April / shafts a century’s light through the glass, / oblique’. When a writer retreats from his own creativity, leaving it in the hands of others, his reader, especially if he is also a poet, will have to change the way he reacts to what is left behind; the shimmering range that flows from the other side of the prism which is ‘out of your shining character’ and cannot return to its origin. The flow is also, as it must be, of blood: ‘Take blood colour from you for visages you now don’t believe’. He will remind us of the medieval makers of stained glass that flooded the floor with golds and reds and blues – ‘some fantastic redundant glow’ – all that is visible of the transformation the window performs on the light beyond, ‘sectioned in jade’:

in different stains of glass:
intense throw of lapis, freaked with violet,
age-burnt ruby and sunken emerald;
gold whitened by the sun. Encrusted.

Or, in ‘Bernardo Soares’:

azure shirts
apple-green and stretched through the bole.
Coral dresses would flounce slowly to
Burgundy underwater, fluting in the glaze

Pessoa’s portraits returns the writer’s glance:

The slowing down of mauve I can face.
Its unnatural chemics striate: cerulean,
faded cerise stranding in my nose’s shadow.

This can be put another way, as Jenner also does. There is a discourse here that involves rather too much in the way of aufheben in the sense of a discourse that the prism has bent rather too much under the weight of its own creativity and cannot return to the upright to synthesise with its opposite. It “has been cleared away or annulled” rather than ”kept and preserved”; a bowed reed of dialectic which is indeed one of separation, of division, of distance that ‘could bend to pluck its auxiliary nerve’, ‘it was your language that leaned on without me’, granting speech to the other in a retreat that vanishes behind its newspaper in the corner of his favourite bar, the Martinho da Arcada:

mixed palate, hat dwarfing
me as it has to – sits on approval, smudged
into the Dufy marine of Lisbon

Here Pessoa sits while a host of others write chest-loads of words with the merest of glances in his direction. Thus at the core of his creativity is a refusal which speaks in strange voices that are (let us be clear) not his own and yet must (let us be equally clear) in some sense also be his own in order to grant him his avowal that:

Dignity is the last refuge
of the abandoned.

Some 25,000 fragments were indeed found abandoned in a trunk after his death. These were written on the backs of envelopes, on scraps of paper and on the reverse side of other manuscripts. They were written on a huge range of topics including philosophy, history, sociology and literary criticism There were plays, short stories, treatises on astrology and a variety of autobiographical material. Much of this is still to be catalogued. We are reminded perhaps of the valise that Walter Benjamin dragged across the Pyrenees in 1940 on his escape from Vichy France a journey that led to his death at the age of 48 (Pessoa died at 47). Like The Book of Disquiet, Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’ is a fragmentary work that was never completed:

And who’s here when I’d pick about his books,
piled in ranks like a hypocaust exposed?
Fernando’s stripped us back to our paper looks;
we play through his collapse, hot winds where no flue’s closed.

But we are left with a problem; If words keep flowing, surely the author must accept responsibility for them as words can hardly generate themselves. Indeed the word ‘author’ means ‘beginner, former, or first mover of anything; hence, the efficient cause of a thing; a creator; an originator’. Auto = self-driven; independency as in autochthonous, autobiography, autoerotic, etc. After all, when the author dies, the words stop coming. Again: a text cannot generate itself as long as the writer continues to place his signature under it and claims his copywrite. Seeing the writer as function (Foucault), position (Derrida) or relationship (Barthes) does not really overcome this.

It may be that there are two kinds of hetero-naming: the liar and the truth-teller. The first of these is the role player who hides behind a mask so that his reader may mistake him, Cyrano-like, for what appears. He is a ventriloquist of sorts and wishes to avoid the fixity of personality or the constraints of a philosophical or literary position or the restrictions of a particular set of ideas. He may even be the victim of political repression. Here the hetero-naming is done for a reason, the retreat is tactical and this is a kind of lie and, inevitably, the voice behind the mask has a tendency to re-assert itself. The authorial voice still speaks behind the mask.

The second is more complex as the validation of his voices is grounded in a more radical otherness. This self-destruction or negative capability is crucial if heteronomy is to be authentic and entirely genuine.

And so to Keats as exemplar of so many who speak of this truth-telling retreat from pure light and the fragmentation of identity and write of the ‘silent workings of the imagination’ which come ‘continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness’. He writes that, ‘nothing startles me beyond the moment’ and continues, ‘If a Sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel’. Hazlitt said of Shakespeare that:

“He was the least of an egotist that it was possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that they could become. He not only had in himself the germs of every faculty and feeling but he could follow them by anticipation, intuitively, into all their conceivable ramifications, through every change of fortune […] He had only to think of anything in order to become that thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it”.

We are speaking here of ‘negative capability’ where Hazlitt replaces einfühlung – empathy – with something more like einfüllung – a filling up with. The poet fills himself up with the object of contemplation to such a degree that his own ego, like white light, is dissolved into the many. Keats tells us:

“what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”.

The “poetical Character”, the character “which Shakespeare possessed so enormously”, has no identity of its own, least of all some special kind of identity which can be called “poetic”. “A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity”. A poet is “camelion”, “he is continually in for – and filling some other Body”. So, whereas “Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them some unchangeable attribute, the poet has none, no identity”:

“As to the poetical Character itself […] it is not itself – it has no self – it is every thing and nothing – It has no character – it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated – It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen”.

Pessoa wrote of his “purely negative” state of mind. In a “Personal Note” he writes: “My intellect has attained a pliancy and a reach that enables me to assume any emotion I desire and enter at will into any state of mind. And so the poet retreats into silence leaving the stage to the others. Pessoa as Keats and Shakespeare, Cyrano-like, vanishes and leaves the others (in his case 72 at the last count, the first appearing at the age of 6) to do the talking. “To deny me the right to do that would be the same as denying Shakespeare the right to give expression to Lady Macbeth’s soul. And if that’s true for fictitious characters in a drama, it is equally true for characters not in a drama, since it applies because they are fictitious and not because they are in a drama”. The white light is left behind in its ‘dignity’ shattering out into all the colours of the rainbow:

Jenner gives us:

He never borrowed these other selves. He purloined
both sides so much there was just a heavy pencil
shadow of him left, like the gable on a time-
eaten roof before the timbers crash

or, so as he is held at bay ‘simple in the soft declension of his no’s’ as another poem has it:

throw his casements open to denote
friends from all the suburbs of his will;

In Jenner Queiroz can write to Campos:

You need no’s like ball bearings,
Campos, my dear, offerings for sweet oil
to keep Fernando running on tracks he thinks his own.

We worry for it, want to freshen it from its calf
bind a gender; a name, so it can feel at home
with the way your joint and several selves
field different rhythms, let alone
vocabulary. This foxed it, spotted it quite.
An author’s words smell comforting, dark fustian
even. Yours war and shift, on some sucked-out
bones of metaphor.

Go for the verb, we told it, make black coffee sense
of Campos’ sweep of referents, or
Caeiro’s double-takes on sheep. Ries
crossing the cod classic bar-line; and Pessoa,
we said, simple in the soft declension of his no’s.

Pessoa’s grasp on his own self was so weak that he even wrote to former acquaintances in Durban as the psychiatrist Faustino Antunes. He earnestly asked their opinion on the mental state of one, Fernando Pessoa, his patient, who had, he said, either committed suicide or was in a mental institution. Having so little grasp of his own identity, he was desperate that they might be able flesh him out. Retreat because retreated from, perhaps, his father dying when he was only five and his brother a year later, the same year that his mother remarried.

This silence of retreat to the point of neurosis could leave a space for hetero-naming. Not ventriloquism which implies an original voice speaking through others, rather other voices speaking for. These speakers are rather too real, their existence crowding out Pessoa’s own orthonymous existence which was other even when writing under his own name. He certainly existed but so did Ofelia and so did More, Crowley and others. Jenner is concerned to give us a concrete insight into this rainbow of characters. We have come to the point when we are in need of some examples.

First is Alberto Caeiro, the pagan who is closest to Pessoa himself and almost but not quite orthonymic:

He bid me rise pristine, he said. I can’t see this.
I was there, phlegm in the throat of his idiom.
Stood within him? He could hardly spit me out;
a year his junior, I’d taken possession of words, walked in,

shook his flinched hand – the index still tender? – before he
dreamed of me

and, again like Pessoa, is himself a hetero-namer:

I never kept poets, but it’s as if I had.
You who claim me like a branding-iron
to crisp a finger-tip’s breadth of skin
where your writing callous crimps your index.

So Queiroz could write:

– told him only you existed.
Not the others, not him, but you, absent snap-
finger master.

He has “all the simplicity, all the grandeur of the ancients”. He dresses carelessly in the style of Ribatejo after living too long in the country with little to do. He has little education. He has taken on the positivism of the peasant; ‘It’s how I shepherd the sounds, if I could imagine. / But I can’t’ (Jenner). ‘He sees things with the eyes only, not with the mind and he refuses subterfuge and artificiality. He does not allow any thoughts to arise when he looks at a flower and in this he is totally unpoetic. “My mysticism is not to try to know / It is to live and not think about it”’ (Pessoa). Jenner’s Caeiro begins:

To arrive, ripe with the appointed fire
and quake your scribbling like a seismograph
sheer off its track, wasn’t it at all.

so writes in free verse with a wide-eyed, childlike wonder at the infinite variety of the natural world which is hard, quizzical, homely: ‘a farm / cat’s purr amplified in an empty tin bath’. He is happy through simple acceptance and the limitations that demands and asks nothing of life.

who mastered him in a nice decree

Next we have Alvaro de Campos, another disciple of Caiero, a naval engineer, bisexual and a dandy who, after studying in Glasgow where:

They ravish patter-songs in upper Albion,
spilling from pubs on the Clyde, swinging
like derricks rusted by a hundred years.

Here, my tuning fork rings through an empty hull,
a campanile of instant religions.
They’re right. Cheaper labour will kill it all
like a finger on the fork’s windpipe.
I cannot stay here and breathe.

So went out to the Orient to work and later lived outrageously in London. He does his master’s travelling so that Pessoa can stay at home. ‘The best way to travel is to feel’ yet this feeling is grounded in a sense of isolation and nothingness which ‘throws a lattice work before him

shade of an Eiffel dawn, Chicago’s sudden steel reach’,
a powerful striving for exultation resting on a melancholic vacuum.

Unlike Caeiro he asks too much of life.

With Queiroz we come to something a little too translucent; too real, This is Queiroz; Ofelia. Pessoa worked with her in the offices of Valladas & Freitas in 1919, He 32 she 19, a middle class woman working in those day and at that time was thought dangerously emancipated. He developed a love for her that lasted something over a decade not entirely unrequited:

Your fingers reached for the difficulty
of yes across the cream lace fiction
of the cheap restaurant.

Yet sufficiently:

What surgery of refusal will your acumen elide
this time? My voice, perhaps, so I’m a girl
shuttling returns of black and white, silent
as the movies.

She it is who now stands up of her own free will and comes over to him placing on his table a few papers before paying the waiter with a strange smile and departing. Our poet replaces his glasses and, dragging the papers towards him, reads

my oxygen revives a spent taper
in a bell jar of glass arteries, pumped of
the old self that had blood to lose. I’m happening
to you in a last glow. Forgive me. You’re transparent.

He loves her among the heteronyms as our poet (in his own love for her) understands:

I could never stake out the man who kissed me
from the league who write each other screeds
of how it happened to another, dead now; as it had, and is.

What can a minor voice like mine
hope to sliver between such querulous giants?

Perhaps it was he put the non-requital in her soul:

but there’s me O stenographer,
putting words to your mouth to bite with your nails.
It’s me, stop, me.

She wrote a gentle portrait of him in her old age.

Bernardo Soares as Pessoa avers “was only a semi-heteronym because, although his personality is not mine, it is not different from but rather a simple mutilation of my personality. Jenner’s Pessoa asks :

Why did I feel such cruel paring, this
shoehorn of a life to shadows, was more me
than me?

“He is me minus reason and affectivity”. It is he, of course, who wrote The Book of Disquiet and this demands apology:

I’m sorry I so straitened you, a poor clerk; me,
minus intellect and affectivity –
a stupid way to touch the why I felt.

Yet admits that there is some lack of control as there must be:

You’ve outgrown me, are the essence
of what I forgive in me for what I can’t absolve:
the Venetian blind heart that knows itself false,
for the gem mind that glances with the truth.

The heteronyms became more and more fantastical. Having so little ego Pessoa, influenced in this by his Aunt Anica, tried the occult.

Aunt, she vanishes into planets,
their essence of sanctuary, flashing rounds.
I can’t abandon such foreign witness.
I’ve jotted her dark lines into Venus’ mounds

For a year or so about 1916, he involved himself in a series of automatic writing sessions and succeeded in contacting several intelligences, among them Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist who told him: “You masturbator! You masochist! You man without manhood!… You man without a man’s prick!”
and advised him to lose his virginity.

You, sir, are a masturbator, as if
your destiny was a virgin splash of names –
a self-swallower’s barren touch of time.
How can an onanist engender truly, inhere
the identities of all your bloodless ticking selves?

The striking thing here is the solidity, the reality of all this naming. These people, even when they are real, are real. It is both the solidity of their reality and how this reality came to be that is the subject of this wonderful series of poems. This solidity is crucial. There is a fugal intensity here that plays with words to create an interplay of lives. A couple of examples

a charcoal-dishevelled
de Campos, sucked-in tubercular Caeiro, Reis wan
as a child’s first essay in wax pastels.

again:

I’ve breathed each of you, Caeiro, Reis too,
though city-white I’m not his rich-skinned taste.
I give you breath, write de Campos who winces you

a second skin he sees I’ve burned,

These people talk among themselves, about themselves and about Pessoa. Even Pessoa speaks about Pessoa. And that is as it should be. Thus this series gives us a meditation on language and creativity as well as subtle biographies and inter-relationships.

So there should be a ‘library wine to sip books with’ that ‘should be noiselessly refilled. All these , ‘self-cancellings’ For now the poet (Jenner?) beckons to the waiter who brings him his bill. He is now a super-homonym and stands above them all, Pessoa included, and granting himself a quiet unnoticed smile, takes his leave of the place and of them all:

my self-communers who echo whitewashed
walls I concaved for them; and those who drew me
outside my circle. This café loses them; fleshed and
not of my sad gravity, they can’t compel me back.

Thus he allows himself, along with all of them to:

shuffle half-cut home, to bare boards,
an aching bulb, planting no long evening shadows;
days bleached so much together
that the scent of memory is impossible

DP 2009

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David Pollard

David Pollard was born under a hospital bed during the blitz in 1942 and brought up a Londoner. After working in the furniture trade and serving his articles for accountancy, he fled to the University of Sussex where he was given his three degrees in literature, the history of ideas and philosophy. The last of these, a doctorate, awarded on his 40th birthday, was published as The Poetry of Keats: Language and Experience.

He worked at the University of Essex and Sussex and pesnt a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a Lady Davies Scholar. He also published the KWIC Concordance to the Harvard Edition of Keats’ Letters as well as other work on Keats, Blake and Nietzsche. His latest, Nietzsche’s Footfalls, is a meditation on the philosopher and his times and came out in 2003.

He has also reviewed extensively in the fields of both philosophy and literature. Apart from a Waterloo Sampler, this is Pollard’s first book of poetry although his work has appeared in: Omphalos, Tears in the Fence, Aletheia, Fire, Eratica, Eclipse and Poetry Monthly. He is currently writing a comparison of Blake and Nietzsche and his holiday task is a historical novel, The Memories of Herod Agrippa II.

Simon Jenner writes for Poetry Review, PNR, The Tablet, Music on the Web and the British Music Society, is the recipient of many awards and bursaries, his collection of poems ‘About Bloody Time’ was published in 2007. He is Director of Survivors’ Poetry, and editor of Waterloo Press (see http://www.waterloopress.co.uk)

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

February 6, 2009 at 12:50 pm

THE PESSOA SERIES

The Simon Jenner Page

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Pessoa 72 dpi

Pesoa

THE FIRST TWELVE
The poems that follow are the first twelve of a sequence that address a fictional extension of Pessoa’s selves, including people he met, those he created, and those of the past he conjured, like the shade of Henry More. As often, they write to him, or (as will occur later in the sequence) to each other. Pessoa is often writing from beyond the grave, and Crowley turns up in a contemporary Brighton bar. I imagine neither he nor Pessoa would have thought this out of the ordinary. Since Crowley too, wrote poetry of a kind, and was esteemed by Pessoa, it seems fitting he should find his niche in what follows.

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Pessoa: Disseminations, 1914

You’d need a convex soul for these,
the heteronyms blown through the cautious
amber of my hive, huddling the wax
of metaphor just a moment before the bubble burst,
my translucent timorous talent waving legs,
weighted already with so much pollen.

I said I heard my master born within me,
a fury of assurance dipped with what
flees – my entry of farewells, my buzzing monogram
habit on a canvas flora that should fill a hall.
My master shall flourish something better,
more than the cut rose of a clerk’s ambition.

I’m the husk for what emerges, goes on without me
to pollinate other names, when I’m found dead
in winter: Caeiro, de Campos, Reis, Soares.
I’ll blow on them in the cold; their murmur’s pitiful.
Each chamber is lit with tallow till it dies,
where I shiver out: Pessoa, Pessoa, Pessoa.

30. 5. 08

Alberto Caeiro to Pessoa, 1914

To arrive, ripe with the appointed fire
and quake your scribbling like a seismograph
sheer off its track, wasn’t it at all.

If anything it was mulberries and fishes,
words veiled from their clear air and water
by the cheesecloth muslin of saying, taking

thought of letters filtering through their net.
If I hear them it’s hard, quizzical, homely: a farm
cat’s purr amplified in an empty tin bath.

It’s how I shepherd the sounds, if I could imagine.
But I can’t. It’s my forlorn strength, full of impossibly-reared
mulberries and fishes left awhile, gone rotten and real.

6-15. 6. 08

Pessoa to Pessoa: June 13th, 2008

Today I complete my one hundred
and twentieth year, set trine
for the circle where I eat up my names;
they jockey to agree I don’t exist.

My sketch – mixed palate, hat dwarfing
me as it has to – sits on approval, smudged
into the Dufy marine of Lisbon that should
lie somewhere behind, but is denied

like the Turkish coffee dried to charcoal
between us, code of a clerk non-extant, that must be
a sheet copy of an original that never existed.
No, as something heavy, circling, that thought it did.

It’s my yellowed two-way ticket to voices:
my self-communers who echo whitewashed
walls I concaved for them; and those who drew me
outside my circle. This café loses them; fleshed and
not of my sad gravity, they can’t compel me back.

13-20. 6. 08

Crowley to Pessoa

You faked my death so well, so quixotically
shuffled it last century, where your pack
loosed its chances to us. I was a card.
Now I’m the Apostate reborn.
Whilst the police combed my Hell’s
Mouth plunge from the eyrie, you quelled
rumours of my breath snickering back up
with that announcement in The Times.

She saw it, shivered for portents after that;
apologised to my shade, my edges bevelled
by memory and the consequences of a dog-
eared suit. None suffered questions or irons,
save the field of Scorpio, negative Mars.
Your fingers splayed the ritual slaughter
of Ten of Swords. I made it back through
bullfights and Spain, playing at keeps.

But this started with the fortunate truth.
You corrected my horoscope from Lisbon.
All square. And translated my Hymn to Pan,
my dream to reverse the Christian imperium.
Now, an epoch of planetary returns
later, I cannot thank you in kind,
my voice fluting; an opiate Pan fallen
from his stops to
this oboe register I still seduce with.

Too simply. So take this Red Bull, a brew of blood
staining Vodka, as it steams up an aroma of
sacrifice for Julian, the Pagan’s last champion,
who wears my halo, the Emperor’s
major Arcana. No: dead, I’m still
incarnate in my own beastly trap. Unlike your
heteronyms I can’t return, or trace back
to the flex of another’s power. I should
have been such a name to shudder with,
but am just a busted flush in the cheek,
numbered 666 in the pack.

20-27. 6/1. 7. 08

Alfredo de Campos to Pessoa, 1914

They ravish patter-songs in upper Albion,
spilling from pubs on the Clyde, swinging
like derricks rusted by a hundred years.
Then all hands here shall be orphans
of the patricians’ oil long dried
into that well’s inversion; into the shape
of their scions’ teetering villas.

So they prophesy along the upper Clyde
that my doctrine of rivets, my blueprint
of engineer puckering through the tracing paper,
is dead as an Etruscan’s night song,
down the Arno, where kyries overtone his breath.

Here, my tuning fork rings through an empty hull,
a campanile of instant religions.
They’re right. Cheaper labour will kill it all
like a finger on the fork’s windpipe.
I cannot stay here and breathe.

I’ll go where the cabbagey kings of
overtime listen with their cauliflower ears
to this polyphony of planes, these vortices
of the sliding century, where only metalled work
can save it, with more and more surfaces
fanning out to stop the silence.

Don’t believe in me, tight rhapsodist;
I’d reduce you to lines, your vanishing point
moustache and tiny matchstick hands –
bride of the wind machine,
or settled cubist nocturne of faces, navy
blue, pendant, blown hatless slowly round.

So each sees each of us. So I
stick too much from one side, my trumpet
nose still sniffing disdain at your quiet,
with you and Reis shushing my sump accent,
and Caeiro saying this could never happen.

27. 6/1. 7. 08

Ricardo Reis to Pessoa, 1917

You are a June evening, my Pessoa, or you catch
that pretence so achingly it’s truer than your death;
spared in the café awning, your wide-awake’s brim.
De Campos throws a lattice work before him
shade of an Eiffel dawn, Chicago’s sudden steel reach.

I watch the blinds’ ombrage pine to eleven.
Their cool stripes feign holidays. Only Caeiro strides –
coughing, it’s true – a match blaze
invisible in the noon that will take him,
refusing shadows that imagine.

28-29. 6/1. 7. 08

Alexander Search to Pessoa, 1919

Why, my imagineer, abandon me? Your brothers
in London read you in The Times –
A. A. Crosse, not a seriffed character.
Your Oxon Durban tutors still snip your rhymes.

Your defend Butto – Reis’s true kin – with Pater,
as if Lisbon would languish into Jowett’s Greece.
The war’s gentled hate here; it’s not Paris or
Berlin’s cauldron, but Anon can kiss in peace.

It’s your elective language. Your sole books are English Poems,
a series you shouldn’t stale. Nothing Portuguese
since Camoens is read. Be universal. Recall me
to your cozenage, now Caeiro’s dead. Bring sad Reis.

You can harangue the flickering Monro again,
or the Astrological Society as a Baconite.
But cast me in, not out, a fatal transit at least;
a soft Zeppelin, to steal my solitary night.

29. 6. 08

Bernardo Soares, 1934

There should be a library wine to sip books
with; rammed chalk palate but enough fruit
to show the browsers’ azure shirts
apple-green and stretched through the bole.
Coral dresses would flounce slowly to
Burgundy underwater, fluting in the glaze.
Time itself would admire the dust pittering
down the rim, impervious to my day-drumming
fingers; to whether a lozenge of April
shafts a century’s light through the glass,
oblique; or a cubit of November fog.

It should be noiselessly refilled. All’s replenished
but us, the drinkers with a stopper to what
we can slake with our eyes. We who can’t yet
read with them shut; or nose a work’s fusty
bouquet, even its decade, race of soil, a floral
tribute of decay. But we have to learn before
we shuffle half-cut home, to bare boards,
an aching bulb, planting no long evening
shadows; days bleached so much together
that the scent of memory is impossible.

4-6. 7. 08

Ophelia Queiroz, 1920-35

De Campos blocks my letters; that sub-divided
self to mask the mask of the self that peeks
out behind the egg-white Venetian half-Arlecchino
is too cautious to let that mask fire in such
arsenic-green twilight.

That’s wrong. I see him as a winter
carbuncle, a futurismo ski-launch from your nose.
No. I can’t send this train of paste and flesh,
since, not knowing yours beyond that flurried
late office kiss when I knew nothing of you,
I know you too well.

Knowing is fire, and I’m your reach of air
A latitude of one day, and twelve Gemini years later.
Our birthday telegrams still almost cross and dash.
I’ve breathed each of you, Caeiro, Reis too,
though city-white I’m not his rich-skinned taste.
I give you breath, write de Campos who winces you

a second skin he sees I’ve burned,
capillaries brightening to filaments
as my oxygen revives a spent taper
in a bell jar of glass arteries, pumped of
the old self that had blood to lose. I’m happening
to you in a last glow. Forgive me. You’re transparent.

What can a minor voice like mine
hope to sliver between such querulous giants?
Quarrels, self-cancellings? I know timbre,
that mine, a wisp, flares trouble between them.

I could never stake out the man who kissed me
from the league who write each other screeds
of how it happened to another, dead now; as it had, and is.
Only our telegrams, transcribed by others to coded shocks
and blanks, give proofs: delivered in yellow
with botched type, by beautiful, frowning boys
whose children might recite you too literally.

10-11. 7. 08

Henry More, Platonist 1614-1916

You, sir, are a masturbator, as if
your destiny was a virgin splash of names –
a self-swallower’s barren touch of time.
How can an onanist engender truly, inhere
the identities of all your bloodless ticking selves?

You must take my wife, reborn as mistress.
She’s the greater masturbator, your charts
will flow, kindle her balsamic moon.
Here’s her horoscope – note Libra rising.
Sapient lust will empty you both into day.

Mistress is my judgment, not the state of wife
with its basket of tares. You’re built
for the flurry and rive of afternoons.
Nights volunteer the compasses and trembling arc
attuned to me who writes this through your quiet
of two of the clock though not of my time.

I’ll progress through your cadent houses
and make an end of each procrastination.
I was in your case, oaken centuries back, stalking
groves of aromatic learning, but never to pluck
the basil tubs my wife flourished simply at the door
to her knot garden. I never entered. You’re in my leaf.
Don’t lay them flat or dry them grey pale and brittle.
Chew them to the stalk. Let her swallow you.

11-15. 7. 08

Aunt Anica to Pessoa, 1916

Nephew, I write where night and Mercury
are retrograde – so in a sleepy language; fit
for More. His ether’s crossed by demons of late.
He says not to believe all he transmits –
save, I suppose, his tart retort to me.
And certain erotic admonitions I’m not
permitted. Does that ring to you?
Should it? I’m tending a herb garden
that needs clay – not the chalk or limestone
only Whitebeams root in. That basil pot
you christened Isabella puts forth surprisingly.
I should plant near a graveyard.
I furnish enough rites to the fallen
in this German war. Besant has failed us.

Durban’s full of evacuations. Letters
are drained of the old family colours. We
can’t dream your mother travels, heightened
in her premonitions. And now that continent
bleeds khaki north – dyed through German
hands we hear, darkly dealt through Holland.

These hills drain off doubts, hopes,
the terraced patience of civilisation.
I’m glad. I’ll desiccate to some mummy
lightly handed down, my scribblings
papyri hieroglyphs only you can decipher,
slough, and don at will. A light-boned aunt’s
exhortations; sepia, a faint blood tie –
beyond this time of khaki, the butterfly
dyes we can’t rub from the compass
of a garden are ones that kill; scarlet
of cardinals, tyrian, all those swart indelibles.

Forgive my writing whilst your ruling planet
lies against us. But he’s colourless,
takes no tincture of this time, lets
the dryest spirit seep you something.

12. 7. 08

Pessoa to Charles Robert Anon, December 1935

The stunted weave of pigeons
spoke more than their sleepless monotone.
This is Chelsea, garden of the dead.

I was booked for ’36. Search was right.
My brothers here pluck the threads of my estate,
tangled by miles of misunderstanding, twanged

by migrating swallows that tip Lisbon
black with their plumed edges, London’s
soot blued to Morocco. My lines, you’d say

stretch all compassion, balled like reclaimed wool
in that domed trunk where you too lie awake
mis-counting my old crab-apple of an iambic beat.

Now I’m dead I can keep promises; appoint
you my joint English executor. Now genius evaporates
like ouzo I’d be less cruel, since I add nothing.

It’s the spoil of families, how they fall out,
The paper ones spilled by the livid hearts.
Be kind to each other; repeat nothing of me.

18-19. 7. 08

Pessoa to Bernardo Soares

These are the sparkling days for stone –
Portland white’s pearl glow in July, that
marmoreal throb I saw in Durban, whose slow

expense we never slatted into glints between
cedar – those narrow-blinded streets I thrust
us both into, venturi of dust and gritted sun.

I’m sorry I so straitened you, a poor clerk; me,
minus intellect and affectivity –
a stupid way to touch the why I felt.

Your superstition of superstition, as if
I’d stripped back so much into flinch
that I’d bleached your swart melancholy:

where pain should have flung wide blinds,
called across broad masonries. I contrived
just that brief intercourse over laminate tables.

My café friends you learnt nothing of, my
pucker of free days from translation of cheap
alloys, to translate pure precipitate, what was mine.

Why did I feel such cruel paring, this
shoehorn of a life to shadows, was more me
than me? As if suffering could be concertina’d

down to your trembling watch from two storeys:
on me, walking away briskly. Better a jack-in-the-box
eureka. You’ve outgrown me, are the essence

of what I forgive in me for what I can’t absolve:
the Venetian blind heart that knows itself false,
for the gem mind that glances with the truth.

22-25. 7. 08

Crosse to Pessoa, 1920

Magus of silence, do you stalk me? How droll
the oval rumble is with footfalls
I catch, as the hush pitches to a lights-down pipe draw

a sucked-in constellation of pink sparks.
We breathe a planetarium’s dark.
At this premiere, the planets talk.

Galleried at the top of the Albert Hall
I felt the Proms stifling – your circles of hell.
Then the wash of you; ghost air flutters my back’s hollow.

A promenader disturbs casement-chilled air.
Lattice monogrammed shutters give to dusk sapphire,
pearl, Victorian brick aping Restoration – Vermeer

in Kensington. Too grand as the dead hold me
spellbound before in mahogany Brahms bassoons,
to register your profound drop – a pannet of ice-cream, a moon

plummeted on a balcony might laugh such a fathom.
But it is you, who never note music down
as a singing beast, but let me review your doubts of it, drawn

in the plush and dash of London, your Times correspondent.
Why trace my back, mower of souls, in this fashion. You’d relent
say I’m vulgar Crosse no longer, the small day rescinded?

Would they play Schubert at the world’s end – serve
so much lyric withdrawal? Or assert with
siren Beethoven? Are these the questions I lose you with?

Holst’s stoop would suit you, sir, an esoteric
but one English Swede who snapped the logic
of our songlessness like a brittle Prussian baton. The sad magic

steeps the well of sound between us – you, perambulant
whooshing opposite round the gallery’s instep, impatient
for a shush you gifted your British voices with. Now we’re clamant.

You’re walking over me in the interval. They throw the roped
shutters for violet minutes. The wraith-earned chill envelops
me, a grainy psychic fog. Your hat’s bobbing everywhere. You’d hope

it’s out of fashion. And I, too smart, am out of yours. Your English blue
alters, Search, Anon, need me to make your book-crease fold true.
I’ll descend to the Second Circle, sad god, and await you.

25-30. 7. 08

Pessoa to de Campos

Why do you write in thunderstorms?
It’s your charge, lightning’s invisible ink only
singeing where burned, jagging forms
zig-zag, discharging the static century.

Too neat, and this decade’s all burned holes.
Your machine fandangos drop: Leger
turns Dali. I’d wear more than rubber soles –
proof against aesthetes of a creased march square.

But I cramp you in my trope, old conductor.
You’ve said I can summon the aftershock
of sad rain, but never the rider.
I can earth you; just a blank stensil you’d mock.

Brother thunder, I forgive you Ophelia’s fading –
she believed your version of you about me.
Should I have told her to divine you between lightnings,
braille my face in the flash of dark; refuse to read it back to me?

28-30. 7. 08

Pessoa to Anica

Aunt, she vanishes into planets,
their essence of sanctuary, flashing rounds.
I can’t abandon such foreign witness.
I’ve jotted her dark lines into Venus’ mounds

notated with lust’s ephemeredes.
Her moon is richer than her last week’s bob; I’d hope
her tides murmur louder than all these –
my time for her freezes to a horoscope.

I live in portents, where my whey face thrives –
we’re sphered as equal, clerk and queen
touched with a transit of Venus, they quicken lives
consumed together with where their planet’s been.

Time is the oldest bread I’ve broke, stale
Because I won’t see her fresh mouth open.
I’m aroused by wild conjunctions that fail:
see her, rather than her sequence, broken.

1-2. 8. 08

De Campos to Pessoa, 1930

Let’s go to Heligoland. It’s a wilderness
I think. Been bombed so often that there’s nothing there.

Martin Seymour-Smith

Heligoland has a sensitive tip, I’m told,
by you, the Frisian who diced me raw haddock
and onion, the taste self-cancelling in each other’s
mouths, when we kissed, when the husband departed,
far too quickly. Loyalty’s not faithfulness, you said.

Sweet fishmongers can’t marry outside
fishes, you declared; they sweat roe,
are a catch for gut-knifed fingers on skiffs only:
the cerulean, the tangerine numbered white
with shore conquests or a year-brined register.

‘Suck this finger – underneath I’m no grammarian.
I’ll startle your versed notions. I’ll startle to you.’ I should have said:
you’re tipped in Parisian black leather, though, no scales;
your breasts cod-white hard still, though older, as I cup them.
They killed you after, plunged from remission.

You were a lick of salt from time, an unstable loan
from the sinew of your element. Love, am I your imaginer?
Can’t I break from my round of air, its neutered Libra,
switch to your mutabilities, to say I once existed,
howling somewhere on my grainy travels;

out of the pinhole Brownie’s blood sepia trancing all
mourning to period legend? Or out of yours, maestro, or how
you snatch my ‘you’ from her, turn me lunar to your pocked
gravity? There, when my geographies fling me peregrine
to your orbit, more eccentric as we year by year drag apart.

Or skew as a shanty is to notation; how it would look,
a sudden hook like the Plough’s. It’s how her menfolk
spied it for centuries, and now, as they burn her to night sparks
on that spit of crusted desolation. Out of my sphere
you say, who cannot see it, but allow I can.

Till you summon me, pronounce: this is out of your shining
character. I could never foresee Heligoland, its northern
rank, its stench of dying to absurd heartbreak.
So we’ll not got there, you’ll not remember her,
make me shudder with her nipple’s salt on my pillow.

4-8. 8. 08

Ries to Campos

Days of the sweet pavilion, Alvaro,
when all his clown facades shone apricot
in some fantastic redundant glow –
he’d throw his casements open to denote

friends from all the suburbs of his will;
and Caeiro who mastered him in a nice decree
brought – save you in your icy latitudes still –
quiet fire, the Portuguese for party.

Far south, now, I can see those thermal hours,
his conscious fabric like this mantelpiece
preserved in the dry outskirt’s Roman ruins next to ours,
foundations, stone curlicues aping Greece.

And who’s here when I’d pick about his books,
piled in ranks like a hypocaust exposed?
Fernando’s stripped us back to our paper looks;
we play through his collapse, hot winds where no flue’s closed.

8-11. 8. 08

Caeiro to Campos

I never kept poets, but it’s as if I had.
You who claim me like a branding-iron
to crisp a finger-tip’s breadth of skin
where your writing callous crimps your index:

Come off it, Campos, you’re no puppet.
Pessoa, I fear is one, invisible silken pulleys, he’d say,
from Durban, foreign voicing education
curls his tongue with calcined Jacobean glottals.

He bid me rise pristine, he said. I can’t see this.
I was there, phlegm in the throat of his idiom.
Stood within him? He could hardly spit me out;
a year his junior, I’d taken possession of words, walked in,

shook his flinched hand – the index still tender? – before he
dreamed of me. Then back tending the dialects I’d set free.
This nudges metaphor; it reads me uneasily. Come with a
carafe. Fact is, I’m home; keep open house to any words but mine.

9-11. 8. 08

Queiroz to Campos

Would they have disdained me too,
those soul avenues Caeiro and Reis,
riddles of orange spikes, cigarettes
moving the mauve evening to its own masque?

You know the perversity of debut
contorted him farther from my virgin knot.
Nineteen no longer, my strumpet thighs
would flicker black on your machined face.

I’d had no deflection of your shining,
but trust to the matt trace of love in skin,
follow the guttering sparks, accost the dead
so they importune their living host.

You need no’s like ball bearings,
Campos, my dear, offerings for sweet oil
to keep Fernando running on tracks he thinks his own.
Let him shunt, just once, to this grassy siding.

15. 8. 08

Crosse to Search

Atlantic friends forever trek west,
tread water, but we shrink back to Portugal.
Now he rounds his going with the small
of Keats’s back, when southing to his Roman death.
Fernando managed cod-Jacobean in Lisbon:
‘I know not what tomorrow will bring.’ Nor did he.
His horoscope was out by a lunar progression.

Fernando won’t further our maps of the dead
with such pomegranates mined for Hades’ orchards,
we only bring back as coal. He’ll talk of King Alonso
redux, some earache of the last queen.
Such royalists might approve of Pluto, beyond
provincial canines like Salazar, who tiger their demands
to prove they’re portals to such dark blue gods.

So we’re plumb-lines, Alex. It’s typical – and we are –
Fernando raises the bar of phantom intimates
by heralding death as sole beneficiary.
We’re cut out, link our futures to a ravelled west,
a fake antique map he rolled up.

Should we follow him to hell and back? Because
he thinks he’s happy there, talking Odes to a shorter poet.
And we know we’ll be politely escorted back
to the surface of things, to breakers,
to the crusts.

22-29. 8. 08

Pessoa to his Trunk

Hush, casket, cinnamon-barrelled chest.
Read me my divisional self again.
Bevel your tooled face to the scalloped edges
of my brain. Seal me back to the twenty thousand
scraps of me in squid-ink darkness written on,
in a Indian ocean.

You remember me better, cut my cloak
according to my discretion, swathe my secrecies
not to shroud them from my quartered selves.
School my fortune in the blackboard’s
inner lid of the heavens where worm-holes
pick stars from the year-drawn dazzle of my room
where I’m cribbed in its larger breath.

But gimleted through you, my sweet wood
I’m constellated in your limitless coffin,
like an ancient minaret.

Shine on my forest of decade-curled leaves,
but fitfully. Usher me out, but close the gates
before I can leave. And in your leathern courts of ox-blood
revolve me; keep me dreaming.

27-29. 8 08

Trunk to Pessoa

Last night we entertained your
bibliography. It tupped your imprisoned
words quite gently, left mementos
of that harem of nouns and wine-stained
adjectives in a barrage of columns
for things drunk long and hard.

But it did start, as if it shouldn’t dream here.
Some of those called from it couldn’t see
themselves, and we let them gallant an escape
to sea ports other than Lisbon, where
blood-stains dream themselves backwards
and plague jumps back into a flea.

We worry for it, want to freshen it from its calf
bind a gender; a name, so it can feel at home
with the way your joint and several selves
field different rhythms, let alone
vocabulary. This foxed it, spotted it quite.
An author’s words smell comforting, dark fustian
even. Yours war and shift, on some sucked-out
bones of metaphor.

Go for the verb, we told it, make black coffee sense
of Campos’ sweep of referents, or
Caeiro’s double-takes on sheep. Ries
crossing the cod classic bar-line; and Pessoa,
we said, simple in the soft declension of his no’s.

29. 8/5. 9. 08

Ries to Caeiro

A glance at the mourners excluded us.
Jealousy, but of what? An Arcadian ego?
Some, like his aunt Anica, smiled the difference
of welcome, as if of all his Christened names, she’d know

which kinned to us, the randomness of nostalgia,
battened on by any saboteur of reason.
We asked so little, the phonemes after ‘p’ or ‘a’
sufficed for our grief’s modest anarchism.

December bleared on black twigs. Who repaired
with bodies cupped cognac to the blistering cold.
After all his atomies, where his nuclear heart so flared
renewal, he’s a mahogany funeral, ridiculously old.

Monologues suck the oxygen of reply.
The dead talk us out, or deputise
half-dead priests whose breath freezes the lobby.
Where should his friends go, but the silence of his eyes?

5/9. 09. 08

Pessoa to Queiroz

Your fingers reached for the difficulty
of yes across the cream lace fiction
of the cheap restaurant. Their slimness owned
no ratchet backwards, no fleer away
as if you didn’t mean them, flush-tipped
the way your mouth pouts at your hurt,
hooding plangent consonants.

Your candour stranded you, and the boys moved in.
How could you, Campos asked, all anti-Cyrano,
address me – my – self-walling and not add another brick?

‘I leant across the table’ you’d say –
‘what mass nerves in my wrists, my nails
ink-stamped with my typewriter’s class?
What surgery of refusal will your acumen elide
this time? My voice, perhaps, so I’m a girl
shuttling returns of black and white, silent
as the movies. Who’s stopping me in the last
carriage return?’ but there’s me O stenographer,
putting words to your mouth to bite with your nails.
It’s me, stop, me.

12-13. 9. 08

Pessoa to Crowley

Your face, once leonine, is unreadable
as frosted glass. It reads out
obliquely from your naked Beast
pinked comically behind. Is this
the way I read your slate smudges for eyes?

Your kind, you whisper through your
melt and ice, make a trapeze of ethics.
This is a sad vertical lie, as gifted
as your fall from the Alpine Club.
You’re more on the level than you wish:

can hardly levitate in the desert. But you live,
reluctant ground, dream glyphs only, fluted glass
a calligraphy of powers in horoscopes,
spread the tarot’s ligaments like entrails.
You can’t fly, but behind your refraction

I see it’s your breath keeps you opaque
to me and the drome of the world you play to.
Sad Puck, you were not born for gravity.
It weighs pouches from your eyes like pennies
Waiting to assume them. When risen, take me too.

Am I your only coeval, no acolyte?
I’ve become a myrmidon of myself –
made Caiero my master. So forgive my not following
you behind your onyx doors, your glazed look,
but dream I’ve rippled all your faces flat.

19-20. 9. 08
rev. 21. 8. 09

Campos to Pessoa

What were Search and Crosse in Bangor for?
You can’t imagine it; I can but not them
till you introduced us over your pencil.

Crosse is a Times Roman exclamation point;
Search, crouchy as a Dutch font question mark
hugged close to the groundswell of moles here

who smell storm in a strew of rubbish
and autumn, always looking up north. How did they
exit London’s swift black tails, art deco’s sans-serif

to sample you so slowly – unscribbled in this slew of slate?
My sanguine fury has matched you till now,
flexible melancholic. These have no defence, blunt monotypes

vivid chips of your grey, haunting themselves
unfinished, on unfinished business, scanning
for the calm block type of their obituaries.

26. 9/2/ 10. 08

Queiroz to Caeiro

Laughter, now, is fly-by-night. No source
of its magnetic north shows, that wince
of humanity even his cruelty honoured.
Now we smile nothings in telegrams.

I had thought of tears, that sudden eye rinse
to twist wild scansions from his brows.
Their arrest was quizzical, as if he’d been shot
slowly, like a king; it was my dismissal.

I’d mangled some unguarded ort
from his lips – told him only you existed.
Not the others, not him, but you, absent snap-
finger master. He took his turmoil off, somewhere

near the smile he banished once, for being familiar.
No surprise, no sophist happiness; no burning
bush but mine, soaked with tears, and not
the fleeting night joys he shuddered not to hold.

3-4. 10. 08
rev. 21. 8. 09

Pessoa to More

Strike away from the body
and the lunar mansions light up time
with this small red match.

That’s esotericism – Japanese lampshades
seen from shrunk medieval courtyards
chilled with the night’s speed.

You’re moving off from me More, your
Neo-Platonics red-shift with new physics
as Europe’s vigilance dons black armbands.

Here, Salazar or Nationalist pickle
of struts and a hand-cranked posture,
celluloid energy of marches and flat drink.

These crowd what a small lamp once did.
The courtyard’s a drill square, the lamp a swivel.
I look up for you in time, find us both gone.

10. 10. 08

Crosse to Campos

Alex said you’d survived him too
Mulled in the cramp of his blood –
your own far nearer than ours, his circulation
a vortex we thought would suck you down
like those flocks Caeiro dreamt he didn’t have.

Such gates aren’t for us then. But arteries
feeding his Styx bleed into daylight rivers
seeping small blanks of memory, like air bubbles
rending a pond’s scum, moths to lace,
clear flukes of glass corrupting old grisaille.

It’s how he provokes forgetting. What if we
refuse, so when he’s struck his near boundless tent
we stray from its stripes forever, these showmen
barbers candying the blood. Enlightened, his
prophets must fondly escape his gravity.

17-18. 10. 08

Aunt Anica to Queiroz

For you see he did not grow old
in despair, but a melancholy of windows
half-opened in different stains of glass:
intense throw of lapis, freaked with violet,
age-burnt ruby and sunken emerald;
gold whitened by the sun. Encrusted.

That’s my fancy, but it was his occlusion;
some near-finished toy cathedral, turned pagan –
a gargoyle zodiac of himself, revolving tints
to pervert daylight, none of it clear. But what
miracles he displays for those who squint him
dazzle and lead, like medieval shepherds.

24-31. 10/7. 12. 08

More to Anica

His decan was too tender of itself,
fragile monster of doubt, keeping the vigil
of its own defeat. Strange, too. His June
was the last whisper hour of spring. Why are
so many winter hearts born at midsummer?

Gemini’s a cruel window onto its own
icefields, the river of the absurd
winking blackly beyond. Yet inside
his hot unaired room he needed the shutters
beating open like a cheap wooden heart.

He never borrowed these other selves. He purloined
both sides so much there was just a heavy pencil
shadow of him left, like the gable on a time-
eaten roof before the timbers crash. Fire
and ice sef-cancelled on his precious scales.

31. 10-7. 11. 08

Search to Crosse

Violent shadows in the heather
deep as plaid in a slant autumn
afternoon; struck violet, a beard of froth
importunes me like a male siren –
I bend to pluck its auxiliary nerve.

Vegetable star, I’d not strike your veins
then, groping at the axle ore of earth.
Your pulse is magnetic instinct; you pall
like a cottager or dram-casked laird
darkening to the topsoil of their creed.

Say I’m the other, postcard Scots, blown settler
broadcasting our purple seed in mad
blueprints, engineer of vaulting time.
No. He beat me thinner than thistle head or card
pressed ‘twixt sheets to fix my colour.

7-14. 11/5. 12. 08

Pessoa to Search, Crosse, Anon

Dignity is the last refuge
of the abandoned. But it was
your language that leaned on without me,
beyond its natural Jacobean stops,
whose baroque cascades out of Inigo Jones
launched my slant cadence.

For me sonneteer was sectioned in jade,
a tortoise-pieced thing, abraded
with brick enjambment, I knew
was centuries out, but your
gaslit myths turned down faster.

So how could I travel with you, friends,
etched on your landscape of copper,
out of Chardin’s faces and Watteau’s marines?
Too arcane? I felt English too old
and adolescent, late child of a late tongue.

Narrating this of course is English,
like my Durban guide, the luting
about must, about must go
to this time-blacked seminary of self,
the Portuguese under the ruby crust
of export English, breaking
through schooling to such education.

14. 11-5. 12. 08

Days of 1933

They told me Cavafy you were dead
and I thought how such antipodes
could never meet. You an orient English
agent in Alexandria, trafficking the classics;
my shabbier occident tricking the living.

English scarred us, like a milky cornea
abraded by a master tongue.
But your limpid demotic tuned classic
or memorial tablets, fantastically removed.

Your tongue translates too, falls
rhythmically to Anglo-Saxon I can read.
Mine’s grafted on contemporaries
whom you at least might concede existed.

No inscription from the sixth century
but a ledger, rolled blueprint, office
frozen to northlight or forever facing west.
This decade will fold us both up,
somewhere near Greenwich to
compare our dead.

21. 11. 08

Pessoa’s Portrait to Pessoa

The slowing down of mauve I can face.
Its unnatural chemics striate: cerulean,
faded cerise stranding in my nose’s shadow.

Now this is you: artificial but fixed. The
moustache hatched in a single scratchy brio,
round the hyperbolic modernismo of my lines.

It’s your face blotches, deviates to a charcoal-dishevelled
de Campos, sucked-in tubercular Caeiro, Reis wan
as a child’s first essay in wax pastels. You’re often away.

And these hollows lengthen down your cheeks,
Take blood colour from you for visages you now don’t
believe. This blind maquillage will last. I’ll fit you.

28. 11. 08

=========================================
Pessoa's typwriter: Photo Ernst Schade

Pessoa’s typewriter: photo Ernst Schade
=========================================

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

August 22, 2008 at 4:23 pm

SIMON JENNER: PESSOA AS THE GEMINI

The Simon Jenner Page

simon-jenner-21

—————————-

Simon Jenner responds to John Hooper’s,
‘How a shy poet was spellbound by the Beast:
Lisbon battle to halt auction of literary treasures’
,
Observer, 20th July, 2008

Fernando Pessoa (Lisbon, June 13, 1888-Lisbon, November 30th, 1935) is Portugal’s greatest writer (and poet) since Camoens – who died in 1580. That should be, he is the greatest five writers (or even ten) after Camoens, since his especial gift to modernism was a radical extension of the pseudonymous tradition, writing under a mask, or, like Browning’s invention, a persona: Browning’s favourite being psychotic dysfunctionals like the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’ or the eponymous love in ‘Porphyra’s Lover’ who strangles her with her own hair to keep her by him. Modernists like Pound took much from him. Pessoa took these two-dimensioned, or even half-rounded selves that emerge in Browning’s book-length The Ring and the Book (1863-9), and created autonomous poets, with complete biographies, literary styles and identities wholly separable, and separate, from his own. The occurrence was instinctive, born from earlier smaller attempts, and was ultimately as psychologically necessary as it was artfully constructed. He felt the birth within him, as he put it, of a school of poets: all wholly individual, corresponding with each other, arguing over their differing styles and literary approaches.

Pessoa was the shy metaphysical; Alberto Caeiro (1889-1915) the Whitmanesque master of facts (‘even stone is too metaphorical’) who died young of TB; Alvaro de Campos (1890-1935?) the vortical modernist trained in Glasgow as a ship engineer; Ricardo Reis (1888-1919) the Epicurean classicist, full of strict measure and looser living.

The fracturing was perhaps one of language: from 1895-1905 Pessoa was educated in Durban by Oxford MAs and started his career as an English poet in the highly-wrought Jacobean style he felt best represented English. Hence his familiarity with English, or Scottish, settings. His only volumes till a year before his death were English juvenilia, noted in the Times where he also made appearances as Thomas Crosse. Earlier there had been Charles Robert Anon, but the longer-lived Alexander Search was the final portal to a return to Portuguese as his genuine mode of literary expression. He corresponded with Harold Munro then editing the Poetry Review (who didn’t really appreciate his crabbed Shakespearean sonnets), the Astrological Society over Bacon’s birth chart, and finally in 1930 with Alistair Crowley, the Great Beast, to correct the Magus on his own horoscope. He even translated his sub-Swinburnian ‘Hymn to Pan’. The Magus was flattered, visited Pessoa in Portugal with a recalcitrant girlfriend, with whom he promptly quarreled and found could just as easily leave him. Together he and Pessoa engineered Crowley’s suicide note, and his disappearance. Then she’d be sorry. Pessoa informed all Lisbon papers and the Times. He claimed to have met Crowley’s ghost. Crowley returned quietly via Spain and popped up at an exhibition of his work in Berlin. They remained friends till Pessoa’s early death.

As for the heteronyms, the joke was deadlier, more darkly creative. Each held a distinct identity; indeed Pessoa in his guise as occultist cast horoscopes for them all, reflecting fragments of his own natal chart as a beginning – de Campos inherited Pessoa’s ascendant as his Sun Sign, with much else, and so on. It was one of the more drastic responses to modernist fracture of the twentieth century. Nearly a century on from this creative self-fragmenting – in June, 1914 – it is also seen as one of the most fruitful bequests to later poets, and increasingly, prose writers. This self-fracturing is intriguingly something Pessoa learnt from his own Sun Sign, the Gemini. Curiously too, it echoes another self-cast Gemini, W. B. Yeats, and has underlined the creation of for instance Geminian poets like Geoffrey Hill (‘The Songbook of Sebastian Arruruz’), Richard Burns (b. 1943) and the Florestan and Eusebius of that most literary of composers, Robert Schumann. There seems a self-conscious tradition that Pessoa pitched to its culmination.

Most, it speaks to other poets. Pessoa’s profile has been recently vaulted from poets to a wide readership on the successful translation (by the great Pessoa translator, Richard Zenith, himself sounding like a Pessoan heteronym) of the unfinishable fragmentary memoir, or set of epigrams and essays on amused despair, that furnish the bass-note of The Book of Disquiet. This, a prose work only unearthed from Pessoa’s vast unpublished trove in 1982, is regarded by many as Pessoa’s masterpiece, though his poetry forms the core of his genius alongside this more accessible manifestation of it. Inevitably Pessoa hired an imagined self to curate the entries, and even fired the first one, deciding like the button-moulder to furnish ‘a mutilated version of myself, without intellect or affectivity.’ This was Bernardo Soares, who like de Campos, was to survive alongside Pessoa till his death. Reading Soares, we might feel we should all possess a lack of intellect like his.

Soares was nevertheless disturbed by the occult symbolism that fascinated Pessoa. Pessoa’s arcane interest wasn’t simply bounded by astrology – though he contemplated setting up as a professional astrologer. In 1916, at the same time as Yeats’s wife started her table-rappings and the next stage of Yeats’s occult and poetic period, Pessoa heard from the Platonist Henry More (1614-1687) in a series of automatic writings whose nature he conveyed to his sympathetic aunt Anica, who seems to have initiated him in several mysteries. Blasted for his masturbation, he was offered the chance to redeem himself by having sex with More’s reincarnated wife (a horoscope too was offered) who, sexually frustrated by More last time round, was the greater masturbator now. Much arcane research was undertaken by Pessoa, who would have been well aware of Yeats’s, a fellow member with Crowley of the Golden Dawn, and similarly expelled, though more politely. Pessoa later held a frustrated girlfriend at bay, who, born a day and twelve years later, seems to have instinctively grasped that to correspond with Pessoa, she had to write to some of his jealous heteronyms care of Pessoa. De Campos kept warning her off Pessoa. They remained friends.

Pessoa was held in admiration by a few of his greatest poetic contemporaries, like the suicidal poet Mario de Sa Carneiro (1890-1916) whose death-pangs from strychnine in Paris Pessoa in Lisbon actually felt before he could have possibly known about them (he’d certainly already had cause to worry for his friend). But his relations with the English-speaking world have been shrouded till recently. Publication of a Selected English Poems (ed. Tony Frazer, Shearsman, 2007) have helped but are not extensively introduced. Understandably, the poetry counts most, but with the English poetry the context foregrounds itself to readers more insistently when it comes to scanning such fascinating juvenilia.

Much could be written about Pessoa’s occult interests – his exploration of the post-Paracelsian spheres that gave rise, for instance to that explosive orchestral modernist masterpiece, Varese’s Arcana of 1927. Pessoa’s interlinking of his literary and symbolist life are elements that challenge the embarrassed academics who can hardly credit, for instance, that the two greatest Irish poets of the 20th century – Yeats and MacNeice – wrote serious astrology books. Much else is, as Pessoa would have wished, hidden from us. It’s difficult to assess how much he wished the initiate to research him, but his essential genius crosses these as it does either his Portuguese or his Jacobean English (not to mention his French heteronyms). But scholars will have to address such understandings if they wish to approach Pessoa’s ferociously private but not forbidding self. He was kind and close to his friends, and his aunt, a life-long friend, was his astrological confidant.

He was of that generation who took astrology from Alan Leo, Theosophy from Annie Besant, and the occult from the kind of places that Satie did. His astrology was remarkably advanced, as has been seen – correcting the Great Beast was a courageous and principled act. His heteronyms led lives not wholly circumvented by what we should see as archetypal charts: the charts respond to the poetry, and visa-versa, but it is a creative interchange.

The only horoscope – a progressed one, not his natal chart – that Pessoa mis-cast, was his own. In the forecast he predicted, at only 47, that he had just another two years to live. The Cirrhosis of the liver then ailing him following his heroic drinking with quiet friends or selves, clearly portended some early death. But one of his friends, another astrologer, noted: ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was out by two years.’ The next week, he wrote in hospital, on November 29th, 1935, in English, his crabbed Jacobean: ‘I know not what tomorrow will bring.’ He was wheeled into the theatre the next day, and wheeled out, as he would put it, an ex-poet. His heteronyms and his poetic persona were not informed. He’d always allowed them posthumous existences after he’d killed off one dear to him like Caeiro, his Master. More poems would be unearthed. Now, as some of his papers go under the hammer to bolster family coffers (much to the disquiet of the whole Portuguese world), Pessoa is still being unearthed. It seems no-one told him he was dead either. He goes on producing work, and Portugal’s greatest writer lives on heteronymically.

Simon Jenner writes for Poetry Review, PNR, The Tablet, Music on the Web and the British Music Society, is the recipient of many awards and bursaries, his collection of poems ‘About Bloody Time’ was published in 2007. He is Director of Survivors’ Poetry, and editor of Waterloo Press (see http://www.waterloopress.co.uk)

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