The case of the piratical poet

Very well: I had my place (Lisbon) and my local character—and what a character Fernando Pessoa turned out to be.

(“a poetical individual.  It being 1924, and the weedy, artistic look being all the fashion even in this distant enclave, there were several melancholics who fitted the description.”)

First of all, as Mary Russell describes in the excerpt posted last week, Pessoa structured his identity (both literary and personal) as a collection of what he called heteronyms, which might be considered fully realized pseudonyms—not just names, but complete identities.

That was a great beginning for his entry into the novel.

But then I fetched a stack of reading matter from the library, and in a scholarly collection called Embodying Pessoa: Corporeality, Gender, Sexuality (eds Klobucka & Sabine) I came across the following passage:

Pirates, Masochism, and Transsexuality

The Piratical episode in ‘Ode Maritima’ [“Maritime Ode,” one of Pessoa’s long poems] merits particular attention as a privileged poetic locus of intensified feelings that culminate in an explosion of lasciviousness and cruelty.

You can read the whole poem here, on page 47.

Well, yes, that would indeed make for an interesting addition to a Russell novel.  So I read that essay (by Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez) and then I read the “Maritime Ode” itself, and all kinds of ideas began to stir around in my mind, linking this thin, pale, bespectacled poetical gentleman with pirates.  To Pessoa, Portugal’s long maritime history

was a glorious past that he willingly shared, in fantasy at any rate, although whether he is the pirate doing the lascivious cruelty, or the pirate’s ecstatic victim, is not entirely clear.

Considering it is Pessoa, the answer is: both.

So there were the foundation stones of my book: 1924 movie-making; Lisbon (which was, I should mention, in the midst of a revolution at the time); Fernando Pessoa; and the juxtaposition between the ridiculously frothy romance of Gilbert and Sullivan beside the erotically charged institution of piracy.

I bought tickets for Lisbon,

arranged to hire a flat just up some stairs from my daughter,

packed up my Portuguese guides, and chose a pair of sturdy walking shoes.  And since my dislocated family were also interested in exploring Portugal’s neighbors, we discussed a side-trip.  Barcelona, maybe.  Turkey?  Or Morocco.

Morocco: home of the Barbary Pirates.  Salé: port of the Sallee Rovers who pillaged their way as far north as Ireland.

Pirates!  Again!

Next week: exploring Lisboa


  1. La Donna on July 21, 2011 at 5:17 am

    The different identities bit is fascinating. And you can really get a feel for it with the sampling of quotes at WikiQuotes: They really are different voices — even in translation!

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