Born near Oporto but now based in Lisbon, Vasco Graça Moura, who studied and for a while practiced law, seems to be at least three men in one. As a public figure, he served as director of the Portuguese national publishing house, has held major posts in various cultural institutions, and is currently a deputy of the European Parliament as a ‘politically incorrect’ Social Democrat (the center-right party in Portugal). The second Vasco Graça Moura is Portugal’s most renowned translator of poetry, the winner of major prizes for his renditions of Dante’s Divina Commedia (1995) and the complete sonnets of Shakespeare (2002), and acclaimed as well for his translations of Petrarch, Gottfried Benn, Rilke, Seamus Heaney, and others. The third member of this energetic trio called Vasco Graça Moura is the writer, with over twenty titles of poetry to his credit, as well as novels and essays.
The three persons are not after all very separable, particularly when we consider the poetry – a poetry we could call ‘public’, as if it felt a civic duty to reflect on culture and tradition. Some poems meditate on art and music, others take up historical and literary figures, and even the intensely personal poems connect with large, humanistic concerns. The poetic tradition, more than a thematic subject, is reflected in the poetry’s very manufacture, the poet having revitalized Renaissance metrical & rhyme schemes imported into Portuguese poetry from Italy. This was especially true in his earlier poetry, which often resorted to forms such as the sestina, ottava rima and the sonnet. Graça Moura still cultivates these and other forms, his technical prowess having been honed on his highly accomplished translations of medieval verse, but his own poetry has increasingly opted for a narrative, deliberately ‘prosaic’ style – the style for all of the poems published here.
A good place to start is ‘the coffee mill’, a poem that tells the story of how 20th-century Western art gradually deformed the image, until representation gave way to abstraction, an art perhaps better suited to the world’s increasing speed, disorder, uncertainty, and noise. The coffee mill of Cubist painting, used as a metaphor for the gradual grinding up of the world as we knew it, ends up becoming “a barrel organ”. It’s not clear if the poet is lamenting the process that took place or if he’s merely observing it. But it’s fair to consider his poetry a sort of coffee mill in reverse. It’s like a machine into which anything goes, and out comes a poem. The plain, narrative style, accentuated by the elimination of capital letters, has an equalizing effect, as if it doesn’t really matter what goes in. And it doesn’t, as long as the poet knows how to transform it.
In a poem published in 1996, Vasco Graça Moura boldly announced: “I transform everything into literature.” He’s a ‘macho’ poet, ready to take up any challenge. Like and unlike the coffee mill, he can reduce anything – not into powder but into words. His poetry is all-welcoming, but also all-devouring, all-transforming. Nothing that enters it will remain untouched. Poetry is power, it’s violent, and literature is a metareality worth perhaps more than reality itself. In this sense Vasco Graça Moura’s view of art is traditional: it’s a war, and the artist is a warrior, fighting against the eroding effect of time, the fleetingness of all we hold dear, and the sad inevitability of death – a problem (death) that his poetry continually confronts.
In Portuguese (partial listing)
Modo mudando, 1963.
Semana Inglesa, 1965.
Quatro sextinas, 1973.
O mês de dezembro e outros poemas, Oporto, 1976.
Recitativos, Oporto, 1977.
Sequências regulares, Oporto, 1978.
Instrumentos para a melancolia, Oporto, 1980.
A variação dos semestres deste ano, 365 versos, seguido de A escola de Frankfurt, 1981.
Nó cego, o regresso, ed. O Oiro do Dia, Oporto, 1982.
Os rostos comunicantes, Lisbon, 1984.
A sombra das figuras, 1985.
A furiosa paixão pelo tangível, Lisbon,1987.
O concerto campestre, Lisbon,1993.
Sonetos familiares, Lisbon, 1995.
Uma carta no inverno, Lisbon, 1997.
Poemas com pessoas, Lisbon, 1997.
O retrato de Francisca Matroco e outros poemas, Lisbon, 1998.
Sombras com Aquiles e Pentesileia, Lisbon, 1999.
Testamento de vgm, Oporto, 2001.
Variações metálicas, Oporto, 2004
Laocoonte, rimas várias, andamentos graves, Lisbon, 2005.
L’ombra delle figure, tr. Maria José de Lancastre, Rome, 1993.
L’ombre des figures, tr. Michelle Giudicelli, Bordeaux, 1997.
Världen accelererade, tr. Marianne Sandels, 1996.
Ett vinterbrev och andra dikter, tr. Marianne Sandels, 2000.
Una carta en invierno y otros poemas, tr. Jesús Munárriz, Madrid, 2000.
Fiction and Essays
The author has seven novels to his credits, and various nonfiction books.
In Portuguese and Spanish
Articles and Reviews.