Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Looking for Mr. Person

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Looking for Mr. Person

Article excerpt

A Centenary Pessoa. Edited by Eugenio Lisboa with L. C. Taylor. Translations: poetry by Keith Bosley; prose by Bernard McGuirk, Maria Manuel Lisboa, and Richard Zenith. With an introductory essay by Octavio Paz and contributions from Antonio Tabucchi, Jos6 Blanco and others. Carcanet 1995. 335 pp. L25.00

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquietude. Translated with an introduction by Richard Zenith. The Sheep Meadow Press 1996. 323 pp. $17.95 (paper)

Fernando Pessoa & Co., Selected Poems. Edited and translated by Richard Zenith. Grove Press 1998. 290 pp. $25.00

Poems of Fernando Pessoa. Translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown. City Lights Books 1998. 240 pp. $15.95 (paper)

Fernando Pessoa, Always Astonished: Selected Prose. Edited, translated, and introduced by Edwin Honig. City Lights Books 1988.134 pp. $12.95 (paper)

Darlene J. Sadlier, An Introduction to Fernando Pessoa: Modernism and the Paradoxes of Authorship. The University Press of Florida 1998.168 pp. $49.95

George Monteiro, The Presence of Pessoa: English, American and Southern African Literary Responses. The University Press of Kentucky 1998. 164 pp. $22.95

Suddenly, Fernando Pessoa is everywhere. The last time I was in Paris, the billboards in the Metro were being pasted with notices of Antonio Tabucchi's theater piece The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa. The French publishing house Christian Bourgois has just released volume VIII of its complete Pessoa, which includes a set of poems Pessoa wrote in his own time-machine English, The Mad Fiddler. Ammann Verlag in Zurich has just brought out his fiction, including the intriguing novella The Anarchist Banker, in German translation. Wim Wenders' penultimate film Lisbon Story, which itself peddles a fair bit of Pessoa nostalgia, has helped to revive the fado, the traditional Portuguese fate song. One of the best-known of these fado singers, Bevinda, has returned the compliment with a CD called Pessoa em pessoas in which she sings a clutch of his poems` to the accompaniment of a string duo. Her voice has that lingering quality of plaintive delectation the Portuguese call saudade, a kind of nostalgia-haunted immobility the reader learns to recognize after even a superficial acquaintance with Pessoa's work.

In his own country, Pessoa has become an icon, recognizable with a few strokes of the cartoonist's pen-the stencil reproduced in A Centenary Pessoa shows him purposefully striding the length of page 158 while throwing three different shadows. Like Joyce's in Ireland, Pessoa's fame has given rise to a culture industry without precedent in Portugal, and Pessoa's imprimatur was posthumously sought for the more modest democratic state that in 1974 shrugged off the dour Salazar dictatorship, the Estado Novo, under which Pessoa himself had lived. By the 1980s, he had become what he predicted he would, a super-Camoes, with his portrait adorning the 100-escudos banknote, Portugal's equivalent of the one-dollar bill. (Camoes, it should be added, stands in the same relation of prestige to Portugal's history as Shakespeare to England's, a strong writer who defined the sensibility of a colonial empire at its outset.) There is now-inevitably-a full-time Equipa Pessoa regularly updating and jealously guarding scholarly access to the work. Retaining control of what he wrote when he was alive never interested Pessoa. Astonishingly, when he died in 1935, he had only one book in Portuguese to his name, Mensagem, a heraldic sequence published the year before his death which dismantles and reinvents the myth of the Portuguese-God's other chosen people-in a Europe "propped upon her elbows."

Pessoa wrote much as Picasso drew: on the backs of envelopes, on cafe menus, handbills, advertisements, his employer's stationery, on anything that came to hand. He simply hoarded his manuscripts, moving on to some other project, rather than submitting them to editors. …

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