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.
Gertrude Stein is perhaps most notably known as a friend, a confidant, and a central figure in the Parisian art movement of the 1920s. Her home at 27 rue de Fleurus (which she shared with Alice B. Toklas), was a gathering place for modern artists and writers, from Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Besides being a strong influence on many notable figures, Gertrude was in her own right an accomplished novelist and poet. Her writing was bold and experimental. She rejected the idea of linear storytelling and took great leaps in her fiction and poetic style. With a dense form, that often lacked a plot, her writing was not warmly embraced by publishers or critics. She distilled language into an abstraction (like and abstract artist), so much so that it was hard for anyone to understand it.
Her writing received more interest from other writers and artists that it did the general public. She was always the great influencer of artists. To read her writing is to look not only into her mind, but into the minds of the many creative people that she had influence upon. It is a deep and puzzling place.
Emily Dickinson lived a solitary life in the mid-1800s, communicating through letters and spending her time writing poetry. Her poems experimented with a style that was beyond her time and she was hardly recognized for it. In reading her work, there is a simplicity to her many (often short poems) that is easy to embrace at first but difficult to really evaluate and get a hold everything that’s there. They are poems that demand re-reading.
Emily penned around 1,800 poems in her lifetime. There were poems about liquor, there were poems about ecstasy, and of course, there were many, many poems about death. I think this poem falls somewhere in-between, weighing a balance between the ecstasy and joy of life with the inevitable sadness that levels it all out—but of course, there is probably more to it than that.
Wallace Stevens was an American poet with a strong sense of imagination. He believed that reality was an activity, not a static object. Perhaps that’s why he tried to preserve things in jars? He also sold insurance…so there’s that. But really, he was a brilliant poet who lived an interesting life, until he passed on in 1955. There’s a good short article about his life here, drawing attention to the time he insulted Robert Frost and the time he picked a fight with Earnest Hemingway, as highlights.