Big Loves: Traci Brimhall on Pessoa

Today’s guest blogger is Memorious contributor Traci Brimhall, author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010).

My Big Imaginary Love

Fernando Pessoa wrote very little as Fernando Pessoa. He wrote himself letters as his imagined playmate Chevalier de Pas. He wrote as Alvaro de Campos, a bisexual, unemployed naval engineer. He wrote as Ricardo Reis, a physician and classicist, as Bernardo Soares, a bookkeeper living in downtown Lisbon, and my favorite, as Maria José, a nineteen-year-old hunchback suffering from consumption and unrequited love. Pessoa created this cast of heteronyms to speak for him. They were more than personas—they had histories, personalities, jobs, passions, and weaknesses.

Pessoa once claimed: “To pretend is to know oneself.” I love this as a battle cry for poetry. When I first fell for poetry, the poets I loved dealt the hard truths and uneasy joys of life. Inescapable, holds-you-by-the-wrists reality was everywhere. I held to Emily Dickinson’s statement that “Nature is a haunted house—but Art—is a house that tries to be haunted.” So I went to my attic and gathered all my ghosts. For years, I’ve allowed—even enjoyed—this haunting, pulling out the past, and if not making peace, at least making poems.

But what drew me to writing as a kid was the power to imagine, not the power to revisit personal history. Discovering Pessoa was like discovering everything I was afraid of and wanted to be. He lived a life perhaps too much built around his creative mind. In The Book of Disquiet, Bernardo Soares/Fernando Pessoa writes,

Sometimes I muse about how wonderful it would be if I could string all my dreams together into one continuous life, a life consisting of entire days full of imaginary companions and created people, a false life which I could live and suffer and enjoy…And nothing about me would be real. But everything would have a sublime logic; it would all pulse to a rhythm of sensual falseness, taking place in a city built out of my soul and extending all the way to the platform next to an idle train, far away in the distance within me….

I want to build that city. I want to meet myself there.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I loved Ms. Brimhall’s “Rookery.”

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