One of the pleasures of reconnecting with my ancestral and familial roots on the Azores is learning about the community of writers, artists, and musicians who are active on the islands and in the Azorean diaspora.

Cascata do Salto do Cabrito, Ribeira Grande, Açores.
Photo by SEA

This year for my National Poetry Month posts I’m going to focus on the poetry of the Azores and its diaspora. In part, because I don’t know when I’ll get back to the islands, and in part because there is, both on the islands and around the diasporic world, an incredible diversity of poets working today.

Indeed, it is part of a renaissance of Azorean creativity. For example, on São Miguel over the course of a week in the summer, there were many cultural activities—from outdoor concerts in the Largo do Colégio to stilt-walking pop-up street theater performances, from book launches at one of the several bookshops to readings at the Public Library.

Add the other islands into the mix—from events and festivals organized by Terry Costa’s MiratecArts organization on Pico to the Maia Folk Festival on Santa Maria island and the “Festas da Praia” on Terceira—there’s an incredible cultural revolution happening on the Azores.

Just how extensive was this revolution (or my own revelation of it anyway) really hit home—literally—during the pandemic year of 2020: it seemed like every night there was an opportunity to participate in some Zoom event from the Azores or the diaspora, whether it was the Arquipélago de Escritores conference, the Colóquios da Lusofonia run by Chrys Chrystello, or events put on by the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Fresno State University.

There were book launches, readings, and video interviews from bookstore-publishers like Letras Lavadas, Livraria SolMar, and Companhia das Ilhas, as well as musical performances by Sara Cruz, Cristovam, and others. (To be honest, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s happening on the islands—there’s more going on there than in Brooklyn!)

One of the contemporary poets whose work that has come to my attention through all of this over the past year is Ângela de Almeida.

Born in Horta, on the island of Faial, Almeida studied in Lisbon, earning a PhD in Portuguese Literature by defending a thesis on the symbolism of the island and Pentecostalism in the work of one of the Azores’s most renowned literary figures, the poet and essayist Natália Correia. Her poetry collections include Sobre o Rosto (1989), Manifesto (2005), A Oriente (2006), as well as the poetic narrative, O Baile das Luas (1993), which critic David Mourao-Ferreira called “a small masterpiece.”

The poem of hers I’ve chosen, “comecemos o dia a oriente junto às ravinas,” comes from her book, Caligrafia dos pássaros (The Calligraphy of Birds), which she published in 2018; the poem is dedicated to Ricardo Reis, one of the heteronyms of the great Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa.

Ricardo Reis has “a very particular poetry and philosophy with which I identify myself very much,” Almeida told me. “He is against suffering and I am always.”

Indeed, Reis is a modern epicurean who urges us to seize the day and peacefully accept fate. “Wise is the one who does not seek,” he wrote. “The seeker will find in all things the abyss, and doubt in himself.”

Here is Ângela de Almeida’s poem in its original Portuguese and in my translation:

comecemos o dia a oriente junto às ravinas

com as mãos envoltas em anéis de água

e olhemos o azul e acetinado manto

e fiquemos ausentes e livres

e suspensos

e com as mãos envoltas em anéis de água

abracemo-nos simplesmente

e continuemos a olhar o azul e acetinado manto

como se o tempo fosse este momento

assim liso e pasmado

e afinal não nos abracemos, mas olhemos

simplesmente os fios de água na pele

deste dia diferente e fiquemos assim

contemplativos e ausentes

enquanto a água corre e não morre

–a Ricardo Reis

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let us start the day in the east by the ravines

with our hands enfolded in rings of water

and look at the blue satin blanket

and let us stay absorbed and free

and suspended

and with our hands enfolded in rings of water

let us simply embrace each other

and continue to look at the blue satin blanket

as if time were this moment

so smooth and astonished

and in the end, let’s not embrace, but simply

look at the trickle of water on the skin

of this different day and stay like this

contemplative and absorbed

while the water flows and never dies

–to Ricardo Reis

Poem reprinted by permission of Ângela de Almeida. Translation by Scott Edward Anderson