Have you ever considered a workshop in an unknown venue with people you have never met? I know it can be intimidating to lay bare your writing before strangers – readings and open mic is a part of that – but to travel to somewhere you have never visited before and share accommodation with writers who are unknown to you is an adventure both in travel and writing.
Earlier this year I embarked on such an adventure, a week in Lisbon. I’d never visited Portugal before and knew nothing about Lisbon except from what a friend who had lived there told me. I travelled alone as my fellow participants departed from Gatwick as they and the group leader lived in the south. The only person I knew was Ruth the course leader with whom I’d done a day workshop with before.
Arriving I took a taxi to the city passing villas, villages and into the heart of Lisbon. Deep in my case my presentation that was my first assignment for the week “The Presentation”. Ruth had informed me the first workshop would be to choose a Portuguese poet I was familiar with and give a fifteen minute presentation on their history and work –“help!” I knew nothing about the language let alone its poets or poetry. Scouring the net I looked for someone who was new and living for I felt I could relate to someone like this. The poet I’d chosen was Ana Lusia Amaral and the only translation of her work is “The Art of the Tiger”. It is a lifetime collection of this living poet’s work encompassing poems from her the start of her career to the present, covering the years of repression to the freedom of today. In addition to her fantastic poetry 16 books, translations she’s written plays, meta fiction, children’s stories. I found her work fascinating and would recommend this book to anyone. The following is a taster of her work and my presentation.
I discovered that being born in 1956 in Lisbon; she grew up Leiça da Palmira and is just a bit younger than me which is another reason that she might be accessible. I discovered she is one of the country’s leading poets, a feminist who addresses, subverts and continues the traditions of her country’s poetry.
Four poems from “Escuro” 2014 are pertinent to the political landscape both of that regime and of today. All begin gently, almost like a tiger waking with no hint of what will happen. It opens to recall memories from her village childhood when sunlight, hope and death was absent and only the joy of light, hope runs through “The Purest Memories” but the second half opens
“Today, the newspapers on this sunless morning
speak of things so brutal
and so flagrant, like people without names, without light
of dead people who did not pass through life
but had their lives cut short the violence of standing
on this earth on others who have died
not remembered at all
. The quartet of “Europe” poems concludes with these bleak lines that hold the chalice of history
Europe sees nothing. She does not even have elbows
to hold up justice or goodness.
And even here, where she to look over here, she would see nothing,
only more screams, No voice. No south
No dazzling sphinx
The first book From Minha Senhora De Quȇ 1990 “Intertextualities” weaves a poem from the simplest occurrence and is one of the first examples that I bring to you.
a crumb left between the pages of a book
I happen to be reading.
Someone lent me the book
but not the crumb.
Shrouded in deepest mystery,
it made its first shy appearance
between two solemn paragraphs,
it tangled my thoughts,
broke the (already tenuous) thread of my reading.
It made me consider the different levels to be read:
the subject of the book
and the crumb-subject of the reader.
(someone had consumed a sandwich in between consuming
those two paragraphs with their eyes:
turn the page, read two lines
the plot thickens, just when did he or she
get up to make a sandwich
before returning to the next few lines)
I was left with the crumb,
an unexpected gift from the reader,
but as a joke or a possible snack,
I left a crumb of my own,
not a water mark but a bread mark:
an alternative theme to be deciphered later
at a later reading
by someone else.
It is also a book where she talks to her daughter and paints the position of women in simple skilled words that show, yet hide the heartbreak of living up to and through the expectation of men and her country.
The Tiger appears in the third book A arte de ser tigre 2003
I feel that these poems are a metaphor for the unsaid, they hold a sense of pain being felt, endured, overcome throughout a lifetime of writing Fourteen poems take the tiger on a voyage of change where colour, light, stars, and the hint of the sphinx combined to draw me into a place where I felt that the tiger was “the cosmic being carrying loves that go beyond time”. (Aldo Mathais 1939) Are these short poems the core of her writing, her ability to disguise in simplicity the art
Changing things back:
dreaming those stars
– and remembering
There are wound so cruel
so like low clouds
in a storm,
that the solution:
Afterwards, what is left;
a little heap of sand
or a sliver of stone
(pretending to be light)
“E Todavia” the last book in this anthology gathers as the tiger’s kill: the beauty of light, greeting her days, reflecting on weaving poems with the gentle confidence of a master?
A living document
through the knots in the wood
a living tree
Now just a frontier
It was fun to discover a new poet and introduce her to the group. The five of us were very different. Francesca had Italian background that reflected in her writing while Angela drew on her mother and home. Gillian came with her husband who was a great help both to her and us in negotiating the city. Settled in flats in the old town it was a perfect space to discover and be inspired by Saramago whose house and heart are a mesmerizing experience. This is one of the poems inspired by the workshops, this poet and my tribute to the city.
Below Your Home
In the afternoon heat a breeze
cooling body and soul we are
drinking coffee, orange
I am sitting writing,
above me the walls of your house rise
covered by studded breasts of the fertility goddess;
she looks down on us and the river,
below her the olive tree
whose roots encase your heart.