Brazil Celebrates Pessoa. Woe the Poet!

 Brazil Celebrates 
                Pessoa. Woe the Poet!

In the last decades,
literature studies have been the major propeller—
not in literature—for tourism. A large literary conference is always
a party for airlines, travel agents, and hotel and restaurant
businesses. The one to profit the least is literature itself; after all,
conferences generate a lot of hullabaloo and zero literature.
By Janer

2007 will be the year of Fernando
Pessoa in Brazil. That’s what newspapers announce and the intentions
of the Casa Fernando Pessoa (Fernando Pessoa House), the Portuguese
institution responsible for promoting the works of the poet-writer.

Poor man! From obscure
poet, drunk and cirrhotic, averted to tributes and even to the publication
of his poems, he will become an official poet, the school reading requirement
type, to the horror of students.

I came in touch with Pessoa’s
poetry around 65 or 66, when only a few privileged were aware of him in Brazil.
I got to know him through Freire Júnior, a theater man in Santa Maria,
who enchanted our evenings reciting "A Tabacaria" (The Tobacco Shop),
"Poema em Linha Reta" (Poem in Straight Line), "Gato que brincas
na rua" (Cat that plays on the street).

In 69, a girlfriend of
mine gave me—straight from the oven—an elegant bible-paper edition
of Obra Poética (Poetic Work), by the publishing house Companhia
José Aguilar Editora, which at the time presumably contained the complete
works by Pessoa.

A gift that to this day
I keep with much affection, one of two books I brought along when fleeing
for Sweden, without which I might not have kept myself above waters during
those silent glacial nights in Stockholm (the other was Martín Fierro).

Sad fate that of great
poets. They die penniless and wind up being named for jobs havens. Without
crossing the ocean, we here, in Porto Alegre, had Mário Quintana. He
died nearly destitute. Today, his name is an endorsement to perks that provide
a living to dozens of paper shufflers, who earn in a month what Quintana never
made in a year.

Last week, the director
of the Casa Fernando Pessoa, Clara Ferreira Alves, was in São
Paulo for some preliminary meetings in order to make the project viable. "We
hope to strengthen the ties between Brazil and Portugal, and nothing better
than the language, the most valuable tool we have," she said.

On behalf of the last
of the Latin born languages, uncultured and beautiful, in 2007 we will have
joyous flockings of critics, scholars, and bad poets, in Brazil, Portugal,
and beyond the two professed sister nations, throughout the rest of the world;
after all, the obscure and humble poet Pessoa must be made known urbi et

We’ll have comparatists
flying from Porto Alegre to Tokyo, in today’s Internet era, to issue a twenty-minute
communiqué as to the use of relative pronouns in Pessoa’s work. Fat
purses in Paris, funded by tax payers, toward in-depth analysis of heteronyms.

There’ll be some leftovers
even for astrologists, since Pessoa—a confessed pretender—also navigated
these waters. So this is the great advantage of literature in this age, at
least for those who manipulate it: free travels, nice hotels, good wines,
and quality food, for sagacious analysts of authors who died in poverty and

To the critics who will
go to Lisbon to discuss the complexities of Pessoa’s work, allow me a few
suggestions: the best codfish is at João do Grão and Vai-e-Volta.
Obviously, the illustrious intellectuals can’t go without a toast to the poet
at Martinho da Arcada and Brasileira do Chiado , the latter being the café
in Lisbon where the Tabacaria author became monument. But don’t forget Presidente,
the most sumptuous restaurant in Lisbon. The poet deserves.

During her stay in São
Paulo, Clara Ferreira Alves met with organizations that may become partners
in the project, such as Sesc (Social Service for Commerce), Casa do Saber
(House of Knowledge), and PUC (Pontific Catholic University), where she took
part in lectures, as well as the Camões Institute, diplomatic representations,
and consulates.

São Paulo, according
to newspapers, was chosen for its role as the national financial center. As
the country’s financial powerhouse, it can afford some opulence to great poetry
aficionados. The poor devil poet has changed status.

Poetry Is Big Biz

He will be revered by
businessmen, socialites, left-wing intellectuals, some alleged statesmen,
and other crooks of the same deck of cards. Those from the "mansarda"
(shabby homes), as Pessoa put it in his great poem, please do not attend.
Poetry now is a matter of big business.

By the way, if you would
like to read the great poem of the Portuguese language, visit
Read A Tabacaria (The Tobacco Shop) and have a taste of the absurd:
the man who wrote those anguishing lines being honored as a national poet.

In the last decades, literature
studies have been the major propeller—not in literature—for tourism.
A large literary conference is always a party for airlines, travel agents,
and hotel and restaurant businesses. The one to profit the least is literature
itself; after all, conferences generate a lot of hullabaloo and zero literature.

In 1976, in a short conversation
in Porto Alegre, Guilherme Figueiredo told me about a curious event. On his
way to a literary gathering, if I’m not mistaken in Nairobi, he asked an African
poet: what are we going to do there? L’usage de la parole, answered
the poet. That is, the use of words.

In my daydreams, I imagine
a fence placed around humanity’s great works, so that businesses don’t vulgarize
them. Here in São Paulo, for a long time, Pour Élise,
by Beethoven, served as an advertising theme for trucks that supply gas for
the homes. Was it ever in the German’s plans to compose the motif for a gas

Pessoa, the unnoticed
transient of Chiado (the Lisbon section), today represents feast bonanzas
for academic tourism. The same with Cervantes. From prisoner thrown in the
dungeons of Seville, today he has become a national matter. No use in sheltering
a piece of work, said Nietzsche: pigs grow wings.

Intellectuals are all
left-wings, right? It would be interesting to witness their reaction upon
learning of the essay "Defense and Justification of the Military Dictatorship
in Portugal."

In this piece, dated 1928—two
years after the military coup of 1926—Pessoa advocates in clear words
that "there is no other way to the country’s salvation but the military
dictatorship, be it this one or the other." The other would be Antonio
Oliveira Salazar, who would take power in 1932.

The organizers of the
Pessoa-Tour 2007 will likely leave aside this stance taken by the poet. If
exalting his poetry is part of "strengthening the ties between Brazil
em Portugal," it would be very inappropriate to take on the entire man,
his political convictions and support for the military regime.

I wish were a speck of
dirt on the road—wrote Pessoa—and that the feet of the poor were
stepping on me… I wish were the flowing rivers and the women were at
wash on my banks …

He wishes. For years,
the poet has been sitting in bronze in front of Brasileira do Chiado, next
to a bronze table, and an empty bronze seat also beside him. The statue is
in a scale slightly larger than the human, for tourists to be photographed
seated next to the genius.

From obscured and ignored
drifter, Pessoa became monument, pride of Portugal. Today he is the topic
for diplomats, State Secretaries, high-level institutions, travel agents.
Time goes by. Academia kills.

Janer Cristaldo—he
holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator,
lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail
address is

from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is
a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of
experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and
political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, FL. His email:


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