For my bonus post this year, wrapping up this Poetry Month featuring poets of the Azores and its Diaspora, I want to share one of my translations of the great 20th Century Azorean poet Vitorino Nemésio. (This translation appears in the current issue of Gávea-Brown: A Bilingual Journal of Portuguese-North American Letters and Studies, along with four others.)

Vitorino Nemésio statue on Terceira Island, the Azores islands, Portugal.
Photo by Manuel de Sousa, Creative Commons License

A poet, essayist, and public intellectual, Nemésio was born on Terceira Island in 1901 and is best known for his novel Mau tempo no canal (1945), which was translated into English by Francisco Cota Fagundes and published as Stormy Isles: An Azorean Tale.

In 1932, the quincentennial year of Gonçalo Velho Cabral’s “discovery” of the Azores, Nemésio coined the term “açorianidade,” which he would explore in two important essays, and which would become the subject of much debate over the years. There are those who see the term as somewhat limiting: describing as it does a specific, fixed set of qualities of the island condition—insularity, for example—that belies a greater dynamism in the spirit of the islanders.

Nevertheless, I think its usefulness as a term is somewhat expanded when we look at what Nemésio himself said about it, reflecting the entirety of his term rather than one dimension of it. Instead of limiting it as a descriptor to what it’s like to be born on the islands, Nemésio asserted that it was appropriate, too, for those who emigrated from the islands, as well as those who later returned. (And, by extension, as I said in a recent interview, I like to think he intended it to continue through or beyond the generations.) 

The term, wrote Antonio Machado Pires in his essay, “The Azorean Man and Azoreanity,” “not only expresses the quality and soul of being Azorean, inside or outside (mainly outside?) of the Azores, but the set of constraints of archipelagic living: its geography (which ‘is worth as much as history’), its volcanism, its economic limitations, but also its own capacity as a traditional ‘economy’ of subsistence, its manifestations of culture and popular religiosity, their idiosyncrasy, their speaking, everything that contributes to verify identity.”

As a “warm-up exercise” for translating Nemésio’s travel diary, Corsário das Ilhas (1956), for which I am currently under contract with Tagus Press of UMass Dartmouth (with financial support from Brown University), I started with some of his poems. And I hope to continue with more, because Nemésio is worthy of a larger audience here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of some of the poetry of the Azores and its Diaspora.

Here is Vitorino Nemésio’s “A Árvore do Silêncio” and my translation, “The Tree of Silence”:


A ÁRVORE DO SILÊNCIO

Se a nossa voz crescesse, onde era a árvore?

Em que pontas, a corola do silêncio?

Coração já cansado, és a raiz:

Uma ave te passe a outro país.

Coisas de terra são palavra.

Semeia o que calou.

Não faz sentido quem lavra

Se o não colhe do que amou.

Assim, sílaba e folha, porque não

Num só ramo levá-las

com a graça e o redondo de uma mão?

(Tu não te calas? Tu não te calas?!)

—Vitorino Nemésio de Canto de Véspera (1966)

_____________

THE TREE OF SILENCE

If our voice grew, where was the tree?

To what ends, the corolla of silence?

Heart already tired, you are the root:

a bird passes you en route to another country.

Earthly things are word.

Sow what is silent.

It doesn’t matter who plows,

if you don’t reap what you loved.

So, why not take them,

syllable and leaf, in a single bunch

with the graceful roundness of one hand?

(Don’t you keep quiet? Don’t you keep quiet?!)

—translated from the Portuguese by Scott Edward Anderson

from Gávea-Brown—A Bilingual Journal of Portuguese-North American Letters and Studies, vol. 43. Brown University, 2021

Continuing to explore the poets and poetry of the Azores and its Diaspora, this week I’m featuring a poem by the late Adelaide Freitas, a wonderful Azorean poet, novelist, and essayist deserving of more attention.

Freitas was born 20 April 1949 in Achadinha, on the northeastern coast of São Miguel Island. She attended school in Ponta Delgada before moving with her family to the United States, where she attended New Bedford High School in Massachusetts. In 1972, she graduated with a BA in Portuguese from the Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMass Dartmouth) and went on to earn a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from the City University of New York and a PhD in American Literature from the University of Azores. She lived in Ponta Delgada with her husband, Vamberto Freitas, and was a professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of the Azores.

Smiling in the Darkness by Adelaide Freitas

In 2018, Adelaide Freitas was honored by the Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region of the Azores with the Insígnia Autonómica de Reconhecimento (Commendation of Recognition), just a few weeks before she passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

“Adelaide Freitas had gone silent years ago through the devastation of illness,” wrote one of her translators, Emanuel Melo, on his blog. “Her husband, Vamberto Freitas, himself a man of letters and important literary critic in the Portuguese diaspora, with enduring love and faithfulness kept her by his side, even writing about her, but above all loving her with steadfastness. In one of his blog posts he wrote how in the middle of a sleepless night, with her resting in the next room, he would take her books from the shelf and read her words to himself when he could no longer her the voice of his beloved wife.”

Her novel, Smiling in the Darkness, is an intimate portrait of what life was like on the Azores during the latter half of the 20th Century, and follows a young woman who struggles with the absence of her emigrant parents—who left her behind when they went to America—and her desire to explore the world beyond her island home. It was recently published in a translation by Katherine Baker, Emanuel Melo, and others. You can order a copy (and you should) from Tagus Press here: Smiling in the Darkness.

Here is her poem, “No bojo do teu corpo” in its original Portuguese and my English translation:

“No bojo do teu corpo”
 

No bojo do teu copo

olho translúcido o teu corpo

Vibra a alegria da tua emoção

e em mim se dilui a sua gota



Ballet agita o copo

treme a boca da garrafa

A mão abafa o vidro morno

cala-se enterrada a ternura dos lábios



A folha verde voa etérea

pousa no líquido desfeito

Dela nasce uma flor

e o mundo nela se espelha



branca a luz se intersecta

refrecta o whisky beijado

Guardanapo assim molhado

refresca a tua fronte



Gentil ela se inclina

no Outro se confunde

No tchim-tchim da efusão

treme bojo do teu corpo







“In the bulge of your body”



In the bulge of your glass

I see your translucent body

Vibrating with the joy of your emotion

and your drop dissolves in me


Ballet stirs the glass

the mouth of the bottle is trembling

The hand stifles the tepid glass

the tenderness of the lips is buried, remains silent



The green leaf flies ethereal

lands in the dissolved liquid

From it a flower is born

and the world is mirrored in it

                                                    

white light intersects

refracting the whisky kiss

Such a wet napkin

refreshing your brow



Gently she leans

into the Other, gets confused

In the Tchim-tchim![1] of effusion

the bulge of your body trembles



—Adelaide Freitas (translated by Scott Edward Anderson)

[1] Tchim-tchim! is an expression like Cheers! An onomatopoeic phrase that connotes the clinking of glasses. I decided not to translate it here, although I could have gone with “cling-cling!” or something similar.  

 

Detail of José do Canto (1820-1898) statue,
Jardim Botânico José do Canto, Ponta Delgada, Azores. Photo by SEA

I first encountered Logan Duarte through Christopher Larkosh’s “Writing the Moment Lusodiasporic” event last June. A two-day event sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the UMass Dartmouth Department of Portuguese, it brought together Luso-North American writers from throughout Canada and the U.S.

The event was originally supposed to be held in April at the Casa da Saudade Library in New Bedford, but due to the pandemic, it was moved to Zoom in June. The event featured a combination of presentations by writers and cultural agents like Irene Marques, Humberto da Silva, and Emanuel Melo, along with a generative writing workshop led by Carlo Matos.

(Larkosh, who tragically died this past December, served as Logan’s professor and adviser at UMass Dartmouth, and I’d like to dedicate this post to his memory.)

I next saw Logan when we both read for Diniz Borges’ Filaments of the Atlantic Heritage symposium in March 2021. I was impressed with Logan’s poetry, enthusiasm, and scholarship.

One of the poems Logan read during that session was “My Statue,” which he described to me as, “an act of homage towards a man who is the lifeblood of my açorianidade, and a testament to those who have gone before; those whose presence grows stronger in physical absence and gives us the confidence to smile in the rain.” 

Logan is an Azorean Portuguese American writer currently based in Taunton, Massachusetts. His family came from São Miguel Island in the 1960s, which makes him first generation American; although he sometimes jokingly refers to himself as “0.5 generation,” having called Lisbon, Portugal, his home for part of his life.

His writing centers around cultural identity in the Luso-American diaspora and has been a runner-up for the Disquiet International Literary Program’s Luso-American Fellowship (2019) and featured in the Legacy section of the Tribuna Portuguesa (2020). He has a forthcoming set of poems in the upcoming issue of Gávea-Brown, a bilingual journal of Portuguese American letters and studies published by Brown University.

Logan is expected to graduate with a master’s in teaching from UMass Dartmouth in 2021, from which he also received his BA in Portuguese. He also studied at Universidade Católica Portuguesa and Universidade de Lisboa and has taught Portuguese at Milford and Taunton high schools and at Escola Oficial Portuguesa. He will be a graduate Teaching Fellow at UMass Dartmouth beginning his second masters in Portuguese Studies in the upcoming academic year.

Here is Logan Duarte’s “My Statue”

My Statue 

Rain pelts the cobblestone calçada. A utopia turns to a warzone. 

Tourists scatter…I walk 

Knowing all too well the dangerous potential of a slick calçada.  

Some of them slip. Now they know. 

Walking, thinking, unperturbed by the hail of crossfire in which I am caught, I lift my head to see a statue. 

I stop, my eyes examining its unique character. 

It stands firm; the quintessence of gallantry; completely untouched by the bombardment letting loose on the city. 

All else assumes a deep gray despondence, battered by the bombs that fall from the clouds. The streets are barren; a wasteland. 

But the statue stands unscathed. 

Only light shines on this singular obra-prima perfectly guarded in a safe corner of the universe. 

A man stands chiseled out of the finest marble. 

His eyes look directly at me…no one else. 

Below him, a plaque: 

“Ocean-crosser, storm-braver, fearless warrior”. 

Who could it be? 

A hero to the people? A national figure? The sacred one-eyed man? 

No. This is no ordinary statue. This one is only mine. 

I continue walking, still thinking. I still see a statue… 

My statue…my avô. 

The corners of my mouth raise nearly to my ears at the sight of my statue, and the rain clears. Tourists emerge from their hideaways; some still rubbing their bruises. 

Their selfies one shade darker now, 

But my statue remains unscathed. 

It guides me through the warzone—a beacon amidst brume. 

So that when others run, and sometimes slip, 

I walk and think of my statue who in life sacrificed so much 

So that I may not fear the rain. 

And that I may turn my warzone into utopia.

—Logan Duarte

(This poem, used with permission of the author, originally appeared in Tribuna Portuguesa, in a slightly different version.)

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

#

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