Pessoa and the sheep

Fernando Pessoa was a poet of many faces. As a Portuguese poet, he loved Lisbon (where he was born) and wrote about the city often. But he also wrote many poems in English, as he had moved to South Africa with his family as a boy and studied there. However, once he returned to Lisbon as a young man, he barely left the city that he loved. To this day you can share a coffee or a custard tart with a statue of Pessoa at one of his favourite spots, Cafe A Brasileira, on Rua Garrett.

Pessoa wrote poetry under a number of “heteronyms” (words having two meanings), as he called them. Not pseudonyms, as one might assume, which would be a replacement name or alias. These heteronyms were his unique personalities for various forms of writing, and he imagined approximately 75 of them, ranging from Fernando Pessoa – himself, to such characters as Rev. Walter Wyatt, Professor Trochee, or the intriguing Uncle Pork. However, he did maintain three poetic mains: Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, and Ricardo Reis. The depth and character of there personas proves Pessoa’s talent for reinvention. He held the power of so many poetic voices, all within his own, and found it best to organize them under these characterizations.

For example, Pessoa’s Alberto Caeiro is a poet who takes the world as is, without hidden meaning, and the poem below is attributed to him. While Caeiro may not have intended the abstractness of the representation below, perhaps that’s just another Pessoa personality poking out.

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Pablo and the men

Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and politician who took a pen name from the 19th-century Czech poet, Jan Neruda. Pablo served as Senator for the Chilean Communist Party for a few years before President González Videla outlawed communism in 1948. This ruling forced Pablo to go into hiding, relying on his many friends to keep him safe and out of site.

Pablo’s political beliefs can often be found in his poetry. He also wrote many poems about love and relationships. The poem below seems to be about love and forgetting the lovers you’ve had in the past, but perhaps it is also a commentary about building ones politics upon the politics of those who came before.

Pablo’s writing and his politics were one. He believed “that the work of art and the statement of thought—when these are responsible human actions, rooted in human need—are inseparable from historical and political context,” (Salvatore Bizzarro in Pablo Neruda: All Poets the Poet). He had a powerful voice of influence and the voice of a performing poet. Something that is worth remembering while reading his poems.

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Cummings and the moon

E. E. Cummings (or e e cummings) was an American poet perhaps best know for his creative use of form and language. He created new words and bent the definitions of words and the rules of grammar to suit his poetic needs. While often writing about poetically archaic themes, like childhood, love, and flowers (including this poem below), he did things to the form of these “plain” poems that changed what modern poetry could be.

While speaking about his work, Cummings once said: “So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was, is, and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality.” He opposed ideas and politics that restricted or opposed individuality, perhaps brought on (in part) by his experiences during the war and his trip to the Soviet Union—but that’s another story. Instead, we have here a poem that expresses Cummings as an individual, with his own unique inclinations:

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