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Paulo Texeira Portogallo portoghese Paulo Teixeira appartiene ad una generazione di poeti rivelatasi negli anni 80. Nato nel 1962 a Maputo (ex Lorenço Marques) in Mozambico, vive da anni nella regione dell'Algarve in cui si sente radicato. Insegna geografia nelle scuole secondarie di Portimão. Poeta di vocazione lirica e impersonale, attinge ad un vasto patrimonio storico, mitico e mistico, di diversi secoli e di varie latitudini, che descrive nei suoi versi con la luce crepuscolare di un mondo perduto, proiettato nel tempo presente come una cronaca di desolazione. Ha collezionato molti premi letterari fra cui: Premio Revelação APE (1983) con Epos, Premio Caminho (1985) con As Imaginaçoes da Verdade, Pen Club e Inasset (1991) con Inventario e Despedida etc. Altre opere: Arte da Memoria, Coloquio-Letras, Un Pouco da Morte. Gravitas Poetica in the Work of Paulo Teixeira

June 30, 2004

Paulo Teixeira’s poetry is unique in the Portuguese panorama for being intensely concerned with Europe’s history and destiny. Teixeira, as this article explains, isn’t exactly despairing, but he’s not especially optimistic either. His poems, often melancholy in tone, continually question whether the world has made any real progress.

The relatively frequent use of Latin in the titles of Paulo Teixeira’s poems is an immediate tip-off that we’re dealing with the serious business of Western Civilization, which, to be sure, is in trouble. The barbarians – Hitler, Stalinism, American and other imperialisms, the capitalist imperative – have razed history and our sense of belonging, the assumptions on which our cultural values and human dignity were founded. At mid-century in the heart of Europe, many people were left with only a “memory of things touched/ and deleted on the map of poignant absence” (in ‘Biographical Zone’), but even those of us who escaped the gas chambers, the gulags, and Yugoslavian nationality, have become exiles in our own lands, being left with language, with Latin –poetry, declaration, inquiry, song – as our refuge and tenuous means of salvation. The future is in the past, time itself having been pillaged of meaning. Adam will be “the guest/ of honor at the grand finale of everything.”

Latin is not a dead language, just a displaced one. A remarkable survivor, it had a dynamic written life for over a thousand years after its cultural and historical cradle had been made into firewood, and even today it actively contributes to our spoken languages, being a privileged source for new vocabulary. Latin, which is memory, renews the present. But how far and deep can this renewal reach?

The notion of progress has been rather cruelly mocked by the violence and repetitiveness of historical events. We’ve learned all too well that today’s problems are ‘renewed’ versions of yesterday’s. This is also the meaning of the Latin titles, and of the historical stage sets created for certain other poems. ‘The Last Roman Poet’, with the appearance of an anachronistic bullet, suggests that nothing much has changed in one and a half millennia. Now, as then, poetry is like “the notches the prisoner/ cuts in the wall of his cell to count the days” – a pastime, in other words, with little or no power to influence the world. But maybe it can be a useful end in itself, a salvation for those who practice it, a Latin in our exile. There is no clear way out of our grimly cyclical history, but the poet’s duty (in ‘Fulget Crucis Mysterium’) is to sing “the text of total/ privation, love, in this air too heavy to breathe,” on the hope of “reinventing/ the hearty laugh, the good omen, the blue world.”

Latin also recalls the Church, or what used to be the Church, and the Christian God, who some say is dead, though such a large and intangible reality never dies: it merely suffers displacement and/or is transformed. God is hidden (in ‘Deus Absconditus’), because we have withdrawn from him, we have evicted him. Or because we created a God that was too inhuman, “the flip side of all things.” Or because, on the contrary, we awkwardly tried to bring what can never be more than “an inscrutable dream” into the realm of human apperception. Whatever the case, our God could not withstand the “lawless beasts” and “belching chimneys” that graced the pages of twentieth-century history. We must change our life – our communal, historical life – and we must change our God. Rilkean angels won’t do the trick. And maybe nothing else will either.

I could attempt to place Paulo Teixeira’s work in the context of recent Portuguese poetry, but it would be a forced effort, and arbitrary. In the face of an apocalypse, and this is what his poetry confronts, national distinctions count for little. Teixeira’s poetic locus is Europe – geographically, conceptually, culturally, historically and philosophically speaking – and though his poetry denotes a wide breadth of reading in Portuguese and European poetry, his style is hard to trace. At the risk of belaboring the Latin metaphor, I have to say that this poet’s syntax has a compact, almost cramped quality reminiscent of Horace’s language, and the quality is extremely appropriate in the many poems that depict stuffy, oppressive atmospheres.

In the current landscape of European and American poetry, Teixeira’s work is unusual (and, I think, refreshing) for not being about Paulo Teixeira. As in Cavafy’s poetry, his narrators called ‘I’ are fictional and historical personas. (Anna Akhmatova is the speaker in ‘Rosary’, Franz Werfel in ‘Biographical Zone’.) This impersonal quality has an important Portuguese precedent in Fernando Pessoa, whose many masks were, however, all ways of exploring or enlarging himself. The same holds true for many of Cavafy’s fictional voices. Sometimes I have wondered what would result if Teixeira, without losing any of his detachment and gravitas, shifted focus, not to his biographical existence but to the inner world that Pessoa, for lack of a better term, called his soul. I have also wondered if this soul isn’t, like Rilke’s angels, a trick: a way to avoid addressing the issue of our common human destiny. Teixeira has so far showed no signs of relenting.

Richard Zenith

Adapted from an article published in The Literary Review (USA), Fall 1999.