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The Presence of Pessoa

The Presence of Pessoa: English, American, and Southern African Literary Responses

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Presence of Pessoa
    Book Description:

    Fernando Pessoa (1888--1935) is perhaps the most engaging of the great Western modernists of this century. Born in Portugal but raised and educated in southern Africa, Pessoa wrote poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

    George Monteiro provides refreshingly new interpretations of Pessoa'sMensagem(Message) and the modernist novella0 Banqueiro Anarquista(The Anarchist Banker). But he is primarily interested in tracing Pessoa's influence on a wide range of contemporary writers.

    Among those Monteiro finds putting Pessoa's work to their own surprising -- and sometimes comic -- uses are Joyce Carol Oates, Allen Ginsberg, John Wain, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and earlier poets including Thomas Merton, Edouard Roditi, and Roy Campbell. In addition, the complete text of Campbell's pioneering biocritical study of Pessoa is published here for the first time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5687-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Works and Days
    (pp. 1-18)

    Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) is the last great discovery in twentieth-century Western poetry. Only now is he being accorded his rightful high place among the great poets of the twentieth century by readers and critics of the English-speaking world. Belatedly following the example of translators and readers in France and Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, even the famous Anglo-American critics Harold Bloom and George Steiner have discovered him.¹ Spot drawings in theNew Yorker(the work of Belgian artist Benoit van Innis) place Pessoa’s poetry squarely within the pantheon of modern Western poetry alongside the work of the Austrian Rainer Maria...

  6. 2 Old School Loyalties: Roy Campbell
    (pp. 19-27)

    “It was a Portuguese sailor who first put South Africa on the geographical map. It was a Portuguese who first put South Africa on the literary map. And it’s a later Portuguese poet who was educated in Durban, who may claim to be the greatest literary figure of modern times.”¹ So begins Roy Campbell, poet and translator, in a radio program over the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 1954. The sailor is Vasco de Gama, the poets, Luís de Camões and Fernando Pessoa. An ardent admirer of the Iberian countries and a staunch supporter of their fascist governments, Campbell had...

  7. 3 Poet and Antipoet: Edouard Roditi and Thomas Merton
    (pp. 28-40)

    Credit Edouard Roditi with having introduced Fernando Pessoa to readers in the United States. Poet, scholar, and translator, Roditi was an American born in Paris in 1910. In a “conversation with Edmund White,” published in 1985, he recalled:

    My father was an American citizen, though born as a Sephardic Jew in Constantinople and then educated here in Paris before ever going to the United States. Later, as an American citizen, he ran a buying office here in Paris for American department stores and was a member of the American Chamber of Commerce. My mother was English and I was born...

  8. 4 Dominoes: Edwin Honig
    (pp. 41-53)

    Edwin Honig’s first collection of translations from Pessoa had just appeared when he was asked, at a translators’ convention, “When you devote a lot of time to a big project of somebody else’s, do you find that some of that creeps into some of your own work?” His answer was direct:

    Yes, I’ve translated two poets in my experience as a translator; at great length, that is, over great periods of time, Lorca and Pessoa. But I found that not only was one involved as one would be in the physical business of translating, but one would think, one would...

  9. 5 City Lights: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
    (pp. 54-68)

    The bare bones are these. In 1922 a Portuguese poet publishes a story, which, five and a half decades later, is translated into French. The French version catches the eye of an American poet who has discovered that he has Portuguese ancestors. The American then writes a novella that is heavily indebted to the Portuguese story. Later the American, who is also a publisher, engages a third poet to undertake the task of turning the Portuguese story into English, translating it not from the French version that the publisher-poet had admired but from the original Portuguese. Thereby hangs a tale....

  10. 6 Barbaric Complaint: Allen Ginsberg
    (pp. 69-76)

    InWalt Whitman: The Measure of His Song,an anthology of poetic responses (in poetry and prose) to Whitman that was published by Holy Cow! Press in 1981, Allen Ginsberg is represented by two titles, the poem “A Supermarket in California,” first published in 1955, and a prose piece called “Allen Ginsberg on Walt Whitman: Composed on the Tongue,” which dates from 1980. The latter piece, described as a “Discourse,” appears to be a lightly edited transcription of Ginsberg’s commentary “on consecutive pages of the Modern Library Edition of Leaves of Grass in a sound studio in Boulder, Colorado (1980)...

  11. 7 Blue Tiles: Joyce Carol Oates
    (pp. 77-85)

    By the mid-1990s Joyce Carol Oates, novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist, had published more than twenty collections of short stories. Buried in that rich hoard is “The Poisoned Kiss” and Other Stories from the Portuguese.Her eighth story collection, it “remains an anomaly in Oates’s oeuvre,” writes one critic, “an experiment in fiction (and in consciousness) that. . . provides a fascinating gloss on her ongoing exploration of psychological states.”¹ Attributed to one “Fernandes de Briao,” this book of stories that came to Oates through “either real or imagined ‘possession’” presents the student of Pessoa’s influence on English-language poets with...

  12. 8 Durban Echoes: Charles Eglington
    (pp. 86-96)

    The 1989Penguin Book of Southern African Verse,compiled by Stephen Gray, includes poetry by Luís de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, and Joaquim Paço d’Arcos, three Portuguese nationals. The last named is not important to this consideration of Charles Eglington. The other two are.

    The collection starts out with canto 5 of Camões’sOs Lusíadasin Sir Richard Fanshawe’s seventeenth-century translation. Fernando Pessoa, considered by Gray to be an essentially 1930s Camonean presence in southern African literature, is represented by five poems, three of them drawn from the “Mar portugues” section ofMensagem,a suite of elegiac poems celebrating with no...

  13. 9 Looking for Mr. Person: Michael Hamburger, John Wain, Andrew Harvey, and Dennis Silk
    (pp. 97-107)

    In his essays on Pessoa in the American periodicalsPoetry(1955) and theLiterary Review(1963), Edouard Roditi did some of the early critical spadework necessary to introduce Pessoa both as a reputable English-language poet and as a universal poet in any language. He also collaborated with Paul Celan, it will be recalled, to introduce Pessoa to a German audience, an effort that might have had the unexpected, belated effect of reintroducing Pessoa to the English in the late 1960s. For Celan’s earliest English translator, the German-born English writer Michael Hamburger, could well have seen the Celan-Roditi translations of Pessoa...

  14. Appendix: Roy Campbell’s Fernando Pessoa
    (pp. 108-136)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 137-149)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 150-156)
  17. Index
    (pp. 157-166)