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Portugal’s Júdice: A Poet Is a Loner

 Portugal's Júdice: 
                A Poet Is a Loner

"It was in the
’60s that a distancing between Brazilian and Portuguese
poetry occurred. This came about naturally with the evolution of
both societies: Brazil grew in the direction of industrialization.
There was, a double rupture, social and aesthetic distancing
Portugal from Brazil. Only recently there has been a re-approach."

by: Glauco
Ortolano

Homeland of major poets such as Camões and Pessoa, Portugal has never
ceased to produce exceptional masters. Nuno Júdice is unquestionably one of
the most representative poetic voices of contemporary Portugal. His poetry
is striking in its vivid imagery and precision, perhaps the reason for being
selected as the first Portuguese poet to be published by the prestigious French
publisher Gallimard.

At the time of this interview,
Júdice was serving as director of the Instituto Camões in Paris, an
efficient office responsible for disseminating lusophonic culture. What follows
is an interview he graciously shared with me (originally in Portuguese), after
our brief encounter at La Maison de Poésie de Nantes.

Brazzil: What
are some of your impressions of the tendencies Portuguese poetry has taken
since Pessoa?

Nuno Júdice:
Since the death of Fernando Pessoa in 1935, there have been several poetic
movements in Portuguese poetry. One important aspect that conditioned this
evolution was Salazar’s dictatorship from the 1930s to 1974. In spite of censorship,
the dominating poetry of this period was one of resistance to the regime—neo-realism—mainly
in the ’40s. In the ’50s, a late surrealism phase surfaced along with poetry
greatly influenced by other European poets like Rilke.

At this same time, Pessoa
started to be recognized as a major poet of universal projection. It is then
that a more formalist poetic form begins to be used, which would eventually
lead to a more ample use of language in the following decade. This decade
is the one that has formed poets like myself. This ample language found in
long verses makes it possible to give the poem a narrative and descriptive
character integrating both philosophical and existential reflections about
being, on the same line Pessoa did with his heteronyms Alvaro de Campos and
Alberto Caeiro.

Following the revolution
of 1974, after a period of a certain eclipse that occurred, Portuguese poetry
approached a urban and marginal life in the 1980s. By the end of the century
a new generation sprouts, inspired in the quotidian and in autobiographical
experiences like voyages, sex, and other human relations.

Brazzil: While
attending your reading, I noticed your unquestionable talent for constructing
vivid images. Is it something you do consciously?

Nuno Júdice:
My poetry is profoundly visual. I depart from a memory of beings or objects—a
face, a body, nature, urban or familiar scenery—to compose a poem.
There is something of the photographic or pictorial in the poetic image, which
is mingled with a musical conscience of the language, thus creating a poem
as a synthesis of several planes like the world, subjectivity, or the word
itself.

Brazzil: You
also mentioned that contemporary Portuguese poetry has somewhat ceased its
long-term dialogue with Brazilian poetry. Why and when did that happen?

Nuno Júdice:
I believe it was in the ’60s that this distancing between Brazilian and
Portuguese poetry occurred. This fact came about naturally with the radical
evolution of both societies: Brazil grew in the direction of the more industrialized
and ultra-urbanized societies, more in the fashion of the United States, and
thus Brazilian poetry, dominated by the concrete movement of São Paulo
and led by the Campos brothers, had a limited repercussion in Portugal.

On the other hand, Portuguese
poetry, looking more objectively into the Portuguese problematic in the ’60s
at first, and then eventually in the ’70s and ’80s, questioned the topic of
identity and took as a reference the European model. There is, then, a double
rupture, social and aesthetic, that distanced us. Only recently, since the
late ’90s, there has been a re-approach, however slow, nevertheless an approach.

Brazzil: Could
you say that there is a national poetry which presently maintains a dialogue
with Portuguese poetry? And what about you personally?

Nuno Júdice:
I don’t believe we can say Portuguese poets maintain a privileged relationship
with any particular national poetry. For many decades there was a continuing
relationship with France, but this has been attenuated in the last two generations.
The greatest reference has always been within the confines of Portuguese poetry,
in particular the works of Camões and Pessoa, and nineteenth-century
poets such as Antonio Nobre, Cesario Verde and Camilo Pessanha.

Spanish poetry has served
as a model since the end of the last century, but on other phases the same
occurred in regard to German poetry, especially the works of Hölderlin
and Rilke; to English poetry with Eliot, and to American poetry with Pound.
In my case, besides the abovementioned names, I should include Cavafy, Eugenio
Montale and Mallarmé as the poets that influenced me the most.

Brazzil: One
can easily notice the tremendous support given by both the Portuguese Embassy
and Camões Institute to Portuguese arts and culture. How effective
do you find these efforts in helping Portuguese poets gain international acclaim?

Nuno Júdice:
The support of these institutions will not add too much if there is not
a high quality and creative literature to balance it. This is what has occurred
with Portuguese literature mainly in the twentieth century, which has been
considered a golden century due to the greatness of the writers produced then—from
the recognition of Pessoa to the Nobel Prize awarded to José Saramago.

Among the factors that

aided in the effective recognition of our literature abroad, I must mention
the support offered by Instituto do Livro (the Portuguese Book Institute)
in translating our works, and to the successful presence of Portugal, as the
featured country, in the book fairs of Frankfurt in 1997 and Paris in 2000.

Brazzil: In
this era of information highways and disposable products, including books
and other forms of art, what is it that you try to accomplish by writing poetry?

Nuno Júdice:
I have never written poetry thinking of this planetary form of promotion
the Internet occupies nowadays. Poetry is an isolated and solitary act where
one faces oneself and one’s own subjectivity. And it is on this plane that
I create it. The publication will eventually give a different destiny to the
poem, but naturally that is not part of the writer’s creative project. Oftentimes
I surprise myself in seeing how a poem or a book follows a certain path I
could not have possibly imagined at the time the poem was written.

Brazzil: Can
you define some unique aspects of your work and how this adds to the beautiful
mosaic found in Portuguese literature?

Nuno Júdice:
Since my first collection, A Noção de Poema, I have
introduced the act of thinking the poem as making part of its own founding
instant part of my poetics. This undoubtedly arrives from my readings of Poe’s
The Raven, translated by Pessoa and Baudelaire, and of Filosofia
da Composição, but it arrives equally at a time in which
both linguistics and structuralism left their mark on my generation.

However, these "theoretical"
aspects did not limit my poems to an intellectual exercise, but my relationship
with life, biography, and poetic subjects have been some of the many other
aspects that have come to occupy a decisive place in my universe. This act
of living the poem, thus, is the other point that marks my difference in relation
to pure formalism.

Brazzil: How
does being from beautiful Algarve affect your work both in theme and in color?

Nuno Júdice:
It is not by chance that some of the greatest poets of the second half
of the last century were born in the Algarve: Gastão Cruz, Luiza Neto
Jorge and Antonio Ramos Rosa, for instance; nor that poets like Sophia de
Melo Breyner found in the Algarvian landscape a permanent source of inspiration.
For me, Algarve is the link between land and sea; the variation of sky and
nature’s colors; the passing from summer to fall, memories of my village and
the illiterate women telling stories from a long oral tradition. This link
to the land and to a past where memories from Romans, Arabs and Jews mingle
together are all part of the motors of my poetry.


Glauco Ortolano is a poet, novelist, essayist, translator, and scholar who
is currently teaching Brazilian language, literature, and film in the Centre
International des Langues at the University of Nantes. He welcomes comments
at ortolanos@hotmail.com.

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