Friday, 30 May 2014

Arménio Vieira has fun with poetry

After my unfortunate experience with Arménio Vieira’s novel, No Inferno, it seemed to me that I should at least try his poetry, since the praise he’s earned has come from his poetic career. I’m glad I did because I discovered some very good poems. There are two qualities I liked about them: first of all, they had a cosmopolitan, bookish spirit; of all the poets I’ve read for this project, no one revelled in inter-textuality with more intensity than him. His poems start at Dante and Camões, Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and the surrealists too. And from André Breton’s merry circle of pranksters he obviously inherited irreverence for classicism and stuffy literary authority. Incapable of kneeling in adoration of ancient idols, his references come up like guillotines to cut their targets down to size with gentle mockery. For that reason, no other poet had me laughing as hard like Vieira. As I may have written before, I like a poet that makes me laugh.

I consulted the three books of poetry currently available in Portugal: O Poema, a Viagem, o Sonho; MITOgrafias; and Poemas. Although he received the Camões Prize in 2009, publishers have been slow to promote his work here. Of the three books, MITOgrafias was the most thrilling and whimsical to me, and so I got all the following poems from it.


With small matches
You can build a poem.

But beware: the use of glue
Would ruin your poem.

Don’t tremble: your heart,
Even more than your hand,
Can betray you. Watch out!

A poem like this is hard.
Without glue and vertical,
It can take an eternity.

When it’s concluded,
Doesn’t sign it, it isn’t your poem.


When a man dies,
The resulting silence,
Being not of a song
That reaches its end,
Nor of night
Falling over a village

And having nothing to do
With the silence preceding the instant
When the stonemason hammers the stone,
Find its symbol only,
(never its face, its full picture)
In somebody’s mask
Whose hand (contrary to the hammer)
Prefers the muteness
Found in the rope

Given that the trade
Of whoever lowers the coffin
Is owed to fate
(more than to will),
Let’s say that the man
Whose face is veiled
Can do nothing against the word,
Its oath,
Which, solemn and sealed,
Is fulfilled in silence.


If ruin is to come,
Let it come by airplane. It’ll be
Just one more, I’m used to it.
In any event, if elephants,
Like redskins, live in reserves,
It’s not my fault,
I didn’t produce the apple
Adam screwed himself with.
As far as I know, I was never in paradise.
When they killed Christ it wasn’t me
The prefect in Rome. Who said
I used napalm in my fights?
Who said I was in France
During the bloody night of the Huguenots?
In 1939-45 I was in diapers
And sucked my finger. At Nuremberg
I wasn’t mentioned, no one gave
Me the rope. Not guilty!


It’s them, the shadows.
They were women, a long time ago.

Cool, they came,
Like morning roses.
From carnations they had the colour
Carnations tend to have
When seagulls return.

They were brides offering themselves,
The sweetest of fruits
Between the tongue and the palate.

One after another they came,
Red and sonorous
In their perfumed robes.

Look at them now. In black,
Silent, like a puddle,
They used to be rivers.

They’re not brides, they sing no more.
It’s them, the shadows.


I know eternity: it’s pure orgasm.
How so, my dear Drummond,
If what follows semen
Are the leftovers of an orange
Cut in half, being that
One of the halves is only rind
Resembling the skin mummies
Tend to have, while the half
That insists in staying round
Is only the half of a geometry
That used to be sweetness and pulp,
Now bitter and more murderous than knife,
Next to which it lies, definitely shrunken,
Since the flies themselves, scared, flee.


Arma virumque cano… Now let’s
Cut the crap! These verses were written
In the past, when Aeneas and Ulysses,
In little paper ships, pulled out eyes from
The Cyclopes, laughing under Neptune’s
Nose, a king in glasses and cane
Needing Viagra. Ezra Pound,
Cow-boy and poet, wanted to resurrect.
Thinking of whom? It was clear
Not Mussolini. He was a fat little dwarf,
Similar to the ones found in circuses
Amusing the kids. Between a critter
Like that and a man called Achilles
The distance was a league.
Canto l’arme pietose e ‘l capitano…
Let’s cut the crap! We, most
Of the times, are tigers pretending
To be bears. Arms and the heroes…
That was in the past, when the Lusos
Laughed at Bacchus’ expenses, king
Without merit, wine drinker.


Next to the place where the
Legend of a pyromaniac god started
Who hurls and vomits laws, there’s the Red
Sea, which isn’t red anymore
Nor blue, for the sea was only blue
When Ulysses heard the song
Of the sirens and stopped being red
When Teach, the pirate,
Gave the Devil the ribbons he
He dressed his beard with It’s an expression,
For the sea, in fact, was never
Blue nor red.



He declared war on the comma. The Kaiser
Declared war on the French.
Russia declared war on I don’t remember
Whom. In 1914-1918 they were all
Fighting. Europe seemed like a mushroom
Plantation, you only saw steel helmets.
Apollinaire said goodbye to Calligrammes
And boarded a train full of recruits.
We don’t know how many commas
Died in the Great War.
Apollinaire didn’t kill any,
He’s the one who died.


In 1914-18, ladies
Didn’t go to war, they stayed
At home taking care of children.
In that case, why didn’t you ask
Your grandma to loan you
A black dress and a silk
Hat? If death were to kill you
For real, at least you could
Have died without having to kill anyone.
In this pandemonium of comets
And drums it’s normal that you
Were deaf. Even if I shouted,
How would you hear that a silk
Hat is worth a thousand steel
Helmets, that the trenches
Are only good for moles?


If there’s a bird
In the soul of every poet,
In Baudelaire there were three:
A raven, obviously dark,
A swallow dying of tedium
And an albatross – three
Despairing birds, which one
The most atrocious?


A butterfly called poetry
Flew like no bird
Had done it. Still stuck in
Its cocoon, it invented
Colours for vowels.
A thousand times illuminated,
A thousand times tormented,
He lost his leg at the age of 37,
He was 19 when he died.


In fact Rimbaud was a seer:
Voici le temps des assassins.
The guys, that is, Breton,
And the crew went out
And shot at the crowd.
The cops didn’t give a damn,
It was just poetic freedom.
In 68, month of May, De Gaulle
Hit the roof. It was surrealism
De pacotille, it cost three pennies.

And finally a poem about Hell. Obviously the novel No Inferno was no fluke; he clearly likes this topic:


Hell, as it is described
In certain books, with terrible
Coloured pictures, nobody
Believes it, clown routines
To amuse folks. Even love
Which was once hell, when Petrarch
And Dante saw Beatriz and Laura in bed
With other guys – if they didn’t,
Then they heard – even lost love,
So close to Paradise after all
While the illusion persisted that a kiss
Is an exorcism capable of scaring
The exterminating angel, even that,
Is an excellent hell for newspapers.
It’s boring like hell, it makes one weep
Sometimes and then it’s thrown out, painless.
There are those who find treasures weeping.
Others see themselves beautiful
Princes even, fairy-tales read asleep.
And yet there serious hells,
Frightening, like the wind, cyclonic,
They don’t fit in books, nobody paints them.

I hope you enjoyed these poems as much as I did. I tried to save the best for last. This is the last post of the Portuguese-Language African Literature Month. Be here tomorrow for the wrap-up post.

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