Monday, 19 May 2014

Mia Couto is a poet too

Mia Couto (b. 1955) was born in Mozambique, the son of Portuguese settlers. He’s the most internationally famous Mozambican writer, his work has been translated into many languages. Lately he’s been on a roll: in 2014 he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature; the previous year he had been the recipient of the Camões Prize, making him the second Mozambican and fifth African writer to receive it. I think it was a fair decision, given his statute in Portuguese-language literature, but I personally never liked reading his novels and short-stories very much. I think he succumbs too easily to sentimentality and he tends to have a penchant for little domestic dramas of no import infused with self-help maxims. Furthermore, I’ve yet to read a passage by him where language is ebullient and unpredictable; the man is much admired for his knack for portmanteau words, a game I think any literate person can play at with considerable ease. And then there’s the second-rate magical realism that always makes me think of him as a poor man’s Gabriel García Márquez. With that said, I think his flaws are less visible in his short-stories, his best work, than in his novels, to be avoided. So at first I was going to write about one of his novels, but it was an unfortunate choice and at some point I realized it’d serve no other purpose than filling three pages with vitriol alone, so I asked myself, Why bother? Instead I started scrutinizing his work for other ideas and remembered I had never tried his poetry. Few people know this, but Mia is also a poet. In any event he has two poetry books: Raiz de Orvalho (1983), which was in fact his first book, and Tradutor de Chuvas (2011). So I read them and in the interest of novelty I figured I should share a few of them with you.

From Raiz de Orvalho:


I need to be another
To be myself

I’m a rock pebble
I’m the wind that erodes it

I’m the sand supporting
The sex of the trees

I exist where I unknow myself
Waiting for my past
Thirsting for the hope’s future

In the world I fight
I die
In the world I fight for
I’m born


I am
And in a brief instant
I feel everything
I feel myself everything

I lie in my body
And wave myself goodbye
To find myself
In the next look

I exempt myself from death
I don’t want anything
I am everything
I breathe myself to exhaustion

Nothing feeds me
Because I’m made of all things
And I sleep where light and dust fall

Life (I was thought)
Must be drank
When the lips are already dead

Politely dead


I want to see
The bottom of the sea
That place
From which waves untangle
And where coral’s
Eyes are torn
And where death kisses
Drowned men’s livid face

I want to see
That place
Where there’s no sight
So that
Without a mask
My light is revealed
And in that world
Find what world I belong to

From Tradutor de Chuvas:


What I saw,
At birth, was the sky.

In the retina’s rip,
The unknotted light: my second ocean.

I learned to be blind
Before, in line and colour,
The world revealed itself.

What I then saw,
Still without knowing what I saw,
Were my hands.

Birthing gestures
Thought me how much,
From the hands,
Our whole life is born.

The hands were,
Therefore, my second womb.

Light and hands
Shaped the impossible frontier
Between ocean and womb.

Light and hands
Consoled me
From the incurable loneliness of being born.


I was born in a house with a staircase.

That staircase,
They say,
Was born before the house.

Its motive
Was every staircase’s:
Our fear of being dirt,
Fear of lava and monsters.

Hoisted upon the skies
The house was more than a womb.
It was a lighthouse.

In that sealess lighthouse,
I remember crying on
The first step.

Crying is outside, father warned.
Dry up before the door:
That was the rule.

The tear’s prohibition
Complemented the ground’s injunction:
Fear of rivers,
Of the indomitable floods.

Even now
An ancient voice,
Inside me, says:
Learn from wailing
The birth of fountains.

Every time you cry,
You’ll be born again.


It’s not creatures who die.

It’s the reverse:
Only things die.

Creatures don’t die
Because they make themselves.

And whoever is born of himself
Dooms himself to eternity.

Some tomb dust
Suffocates my past
Whenever I visit my old neighbourhood.

The house died
Where I was born:
My childhood
No longer has a place to sleep in.

But then,
Out of some yard,
I hear the savage laughter
Of children playing.

They play and spell
The same follies
With which I was ruler
Of castles and chimeras.

Once again I touch the cold wall
And feel in my the pulse
Of one who lives forever.

Is water’s impossible embrace


I only have words
For the ineffable.

I only have voice
To muteness.

I only carry a name
For what was never born.

A single certainty
Dallies in my:
What was a child in us
Will never grow old.


My sadness
Is not the landless farmer’s.

My sadness
Is the blind astronomer’s.

That's it for Mozambican literature. Next time we'll go to São Tomé and Príncipe.

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